I can put myself back in my five-year-old self and sometimes my thoughts don’t seem much different now. In some ways my thoughts have matured and I’ve “put childish ways behind me”. But in other ways I feel like I’m the same little kid.
How do we hold on to the “self” from all our accumulated years and at the same time grow up? What is the difference between the immaturity of a child and changing to become the child who will enter the kingdom heaven (Mt 18:3)? How do we know when our thoughts aren’t childish fantasy, but mature imagination?
At my men’s group a few weeks ago, a pastor, Barry Clarke, pointed out how the younger son, from Jesus’ story in Luke 15, illustrates the difference. He demanded his inheritance early. “Father, give me my share of the inheritance” (Lk 15:12). He must have fantasized about the exploits he would engage, once he had the means to pull them off. I see the kernel of childish fantasy there in his demand of “give me”. Childish fantasy is selfish. We tolerate degrees of self-absorption in adolescence. We are nauseated by the same self-absorption in adults.
As the story goes, the younger son gets slapped around a bit by harsh reality and hard times. We are told he “came to his senses” (15:17). Jesus tells us how the young son imagines his conversation will go when he goes home. In his imagination he practices his speech he will give his father. He decides he’s even willing to rejoin the household as a servant saying “make me like one of your hired men.” I see the development of a mature imagination in his statement of “make me”.
Childish fantasy is selfish. You can know your thinking is childish and immature when it is turned in upon yourself. Are your plans “give me” plans? There is an egocentricism in childishness. And like I said, it is to be expected in kids—at least it isn’t surprising. But it is disdained in those who are supposed to be mature.
There is a humility to the mature imagination. Is what you are giving your imagination to about the contribution you can make? The younger son imagined saying, “Make me.” Are your plans “make me” plans? Self will always be part of any equation we imagine. There is nothing inherently wrong with “me” being included. You cannot be separated from your contribution. But are you giving your imagination to what the self can get or what the self is willing to be made into?
May our imaginations be ignited by who we will be made into as we humbly play our parts. May we imagine how our service can make us into mature sons and daughters. May we discern the difference between our proud fantasies and humble imaginations. May we put away our “give me” plans and let our “make me” imaginations run wild.