Imagination is our God-given gift to connect our minds to the divine possibilities that would otherwise remain hidden in the walls of ordinary circumstances. This imagination draws out the mercy and grace already present in dismal moments. Imagination can offer God’s perspective, helping us recognize hope where fear has blurred our vision. Sometimes our imagination leads us to heightened fear. Just thinking about possibilities can make anxiety so real that we feel our faces getting hot and our hearts pounding. When imagination is not surrendered to the reality of God, it is called worry. Worry wraps icy cold fingers around hope and strangles it to death. Worry takes us out of the present fears to the darker fears of the unknown. In our imagination, there is no limit to how bad things can get. Worry anchors us to endless worst case scenarios and throws us to the bottom of the ocean.
But, this is not the fault of the imagination. Imagination is neutral—all hinging on our willingness to surrender our thoughts to God. If imagination is to be a tool of discipleship, we’ve got to let God teach us how to use it.
This last hospitalization, we realized the intense life change our family would now undergo. Ellia is relatively homebound because of her sensitivity to even the mildest germs. She can’t go to church or school or the museum, much less our church’s highly attended Halloween festival. It is easy to become overwhelmed with questions that belong to the future: will she go to school? What happens the next time she gets sick? Should Olive stay home as well? What if Olive has this genetic disease, too?
I can make myself ill thinking of my family’s future and the pain of the world. I’ve learned I must only think of these things in the presence of God. Only in prayer do I find that I can imagine the future without slipping into worry. Prayer serves as the tether connecting us to an ongoing Presence. When we process with God, we are reminded that in the future questions, however they turn out, we are not alone.
Often times, when we imagine the worst case scenarios, we envision the pain without imagining the grace. We look at the potential life-wrecking hell without picturing the immense compassion of a present Jesus. Every time I’ve told God that I can’t handle the pain that would accompany potential trauma, I hear God tell me that my mind has yet again forgotten the promise of grace.
There have been dark and painful things I’ve feared in the past, things that I was convinced would kill me if they ever came to fruition. When they did happen, I was shocked to realize I kept right on breathing. Grace enables us to thrive in places where we never even thought we’d survive.
It is true that there is only enough grace for today, but it is also true that the same grace will be offered in the ins and outs of mind-numbing pain and inconceivable loss. In our imaginations, we can come to terms with God’s immense love, including the reality that when he is too big for us to hang on to, he gladly holds on to us.