Are you afraid of your imagination? Do you imagine you’ll get yourself into trouble if you dream too much?
The church and imagination
The Church has historically discouraged imagination out of a fear that we will violate the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4 NIV).
This fear is somewhat merited. Many times our imaginations do get us into trouble. Aaron gave into the people’s demands to create a golden calf, even while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments! The danger is when we worship the objects of our imagination.
Fantasy and imagination
In my own life, I spent countless hours as a youth fantasizing and imagining myself flying, walking on the moon, or dating the girl of my dreams. When I took a recent personality test, I was even labeled as a dreamer.
Proverbs 14:18 (MSG) says, “Foolish dreamers live in a world of illusion; wise realists plant their feet on the ground.” Ecclesiastes 5:7 says, “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless.”
While these warnings are merited, they miss something key: God made us in his image. When God thought up something in his mind he then spoke it into being. We were designed to do the same.
At its core, imagination can release all kinds of possibilities and free us from many ailments.
Imagination in science, philosophy, art, and sports
Still not convinced? Listen in to the words of some famous people:
Albert Einstein said, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination encircles the world.”
The Christian philosopher, Francis A. Schaeffer, said,
“The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”― Francis A. Schaeffer, Art & the Bible
Musicians and athletes use the power of visualization (a form of imagination) to prepare for concerts and competitions. It’s been proven that musicians can accelerate their speed of learning the keyboard through imagination.
How do we harness the power of our imagination to become more grateful?
Imagination works best if you can see yourself in a motion picture. Try to put yourself in the scene and notice all the details. If you use all five senses, it will become more powerful and clear.
Step 1: Imagine a situation where you tend to become ungrateful.
Start by picturing yourself in a familiar scene where you might tend to become anxious, ungrateful, or fearful. What are you doing? How do you feel? What thoughts run through your mind?
Write down these internal thoughts and emotions, but also take note of what’s happening around you. What are people wearing? Can you smell anything? What do you notice?
If you’re like me, when I become fearful, uncertain, and ungrateful I tend to see things in black and white. It’s a two-dimensional picture with very few sensory details. I get lost in the vortex of my negative emotions.
That right there is a clue. If you can’t see these details, we’re going to change that.
Step 2: Imagine yourself in a more positive state
I’m learning to play pickleball right now. One of the things people keep telling me is to watch the ball all the way to my paddle. I have a tendency to look where I want the ball to go, and I miss quite a few shots.
The same thing happens in your imagination. Don’t allow yourself to get lost in a swirl of fantasies. Instead, focus right now on this one circumstance. Let’s try to visualize the scene in full color.
Notice what you’re wearing. Are you wearing something special? What if you were to change into your favorite sweater or shirt? How would that make you feel?
What can you smell? Imagine how you feel after a shower when you’ve put on deodorant and some cologne (or perfume). I know I tend to feel more confident when I feel clean.
Now take an objective look at the conversation. Do you get triggered by certain words? I know I tend to become most ungrateful when I receive critical words through email or in the middle of the night.
Pillow talk turned awry
I’ll give you a personal example. I sleep with a CPAP machine because I have sleep apnea. I normally awaken during the night to go to the bathroom, but I often forget to put my mask back on when I return to bed. My wife will nudge me and say something like, “Hey honey, do you want to put your mask back on? You’ll sleep a lot better.”
At that moment I’m not very thankful toward her because she’s interrupting my sleeplike state. I receive her words as harsh and critical. But using the power of imagination, I can see her looking at me with loving eyes. She knows I will be a grouch if I don’t get a full night of sleep. She’s seen the benefit of when I get at least seven hours of sleep with the CPAP machine. So I can now reimagine this scene and realize she loves me. I can hear her words as caring even though at that moment I don’t want to be awakened. The next time this happens, I can hear myself saying “thank you” as I gratefully put my mask back on.
Step 3: Turn the negative thought into gratitude
We’ve spent lots of time in this challenge talking about turning negative thoughts into grateful thoughts. For instance, we explored taking every thought captive on day 86 and moving from chaotic thinking to thankfulness on day 79.
Looking at the power of imagination, Dr. Caroline Leaf suggests tapping into the power of imagination (the nonconscious mind) to improve our brain and physical health. Creativity, in particular, can expand our positive, grateful thoughts as we learn to see the world through playful eyes.
Take this simple two-step approach to re-imagine a situation where you tend to become ungrateful. How can you reconceive your response to the negative stimuli? What different actions and thoughts can you have?
Father, thank you for making me like you. You’ve given me the power to imagine and create. I pray as I’m tempted to become negative and ungrateful that you will show me how to reimagine my response. Open my mind to new possibilities and ways I can be used to respond with grace, gratitude, and love. Thank you for always responding to me with love, no matter how I respond to you. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.