How To Grow Old Without Losing Your Imagination

photoThe other day my wife sent me a photo of my two boys, ages 3 and 5, sitting in the front yard watching a backhoe digging a hole in the middle of our street. There they sat on a blanket, mesmerized by the “digger” as a small crew of workers tried to repair a waterline break.

As I sat at my desk staring off into the mind numbing void of a computer screen, a dour thought ran through my mind: Well, wait till they get older and get a job—that’ll squash the boyish romanticism they now feel. It made me think of something G.K. Chesterton wrote:

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; chess players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination… the general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion… To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits” (Orthodoxy, 12-13).

It’s true—there are difficulties that accompany the work we do as laborers in this world. But it’s all too easy as adults to turn into jaded cynics. What we often think of as “growing up” is actually shrinking in our capacity to exult in God’s creation—“growing small” in our capacity for imagination, wonder and enjoyment.

As Chesterton so aptly put it, it’s not the child-like imagination of a poet that drives a person finally insane. What makes us go insane is the way we try to make sense of it all, rationalize it all, and fit it all neatly into our heads. We wear ourselves out trying to make sense of everything—trying to systematize and formulize the cause and effect of every event—and ultimately we crack under a load we’re not meant to bear.

My kids aren’t the ones stressing out. True, they don’t have bills to pay, but they’re doing something I’m often not—trusting daddy to provide. Like my kids, I don’t have to understand everything about the world to enjoy it. In fact, the bewilderment of youth is part of the joy itself. They actually like to be boggled by something fascinating, whether it’s an excavation crew digging under the sidewalk or the helicopter leaves falling from the trees in an afternoon breeze.

Unlike them, I get lost in my own head all the time, trying to analyze whatever infinitely complex situation I’m facing rather than simply accepting what the wise hand of a loving Father has given me. It’s the difference between living in the story, accepting your role, and trying to figure out every why in the Author’s mind. It never brings me peace, though; it just makes me crazy. God hasn’t given those things to know.

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

I don’t know why I have to keep suffering in this way or that. I don’t really know how long. I don’t know why, at times, the things I pray for get worse and not better. I don’t know why work is often so hard, money is so tight and disappointment so frequent. There are things I could regret and replay in my mind a thousand times, but that won’t help me now. None of it makes anything better. The answers to these questions belong to the Lord.

But I can rejoice like a child if I keep in mind the things that are clear. First, I know that though the mountains should depart and the hills be removed, God’s covenant love shall not depart from me (Isa. 54:10). I know even when I’m fretful, worried and stressed out of my gord, God will hear my prayer and cover me with his unflappable peace (Phil. 4:6-7). I know that though my heart fails me, God will not (Ps. 73:26).

The only safe place for my mind to wander is within the confines of God’s word. It is to have, as Mumford & Sons put it, “a tethered mind, freed from the lies.” Only when my mind is tethered to the word of Christ is it truly free. Free from the tortures of introspection and the wounds of self-inflicted autonomous thought. Free to rejoice like a child in whatever comes my way.

Free to live like a child at Three Feet.

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