by Veronica Szczygiel
“Auntie, you’re a stormtrooper, and you have to chase me.” Jackie, my four-year-old niece and a Star Wars fan, said this to me as we played in the yard. She handed me a stick that would serve as my blaster, while her own longer stick became a lightsaber.
Scientific studies have consistently found that playtime helps children with cognitive development, resilience, socialization, and problem-solving. And it doesn’t stop there: one study showed that physical activity and play even improved adults’ sleep. I think playtime is so successful because it exercises not just our bodies but also our imaginations.
Having a healthy, active imagination can help us navigate everyday challenges effectively. Say, for instance, we are in conflict with a friend.
We can imagine the situation from their point of view, which can lead to understanding, empathy, and conflict resolution. If we are stuck on a problem at work, our imaginations can help us think of a creative solution.
Perhaps we need to look at the project from a different angle or ask different questions. Or, step outside our cubicles and team up with our colleagues. Whatever the case, our imaginations enable us to think beyond our present moment and beyond ourselves — which is what, as Christians, we are called to do, as we should “through love be servants of one another” (Galatians 5:13).
Imaginative play, research has also found, helps with family bonding. When children or grandchildren play with each other and with adults, the whole family grows in unity, friendship, and love.
The same bonding happens when we use imagination in prayer. We can deepen our prayer life by imagining Jesus sitting right next to us. What would he say to us? Words of comfort? Of critique? Of courage?
He would probably smile, hug us, and tell us how much he treasures us. Keeping a childlike love of the Lord will bring us even closer to him. Jesus actually encourages us to become more like children in our approach to our faith, saying: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-5).
J.M. Barrie wrote in his children’s book Peter Pan, “Even though you want to try to, never grow up.” While we eventually do grow up to work and pay taxes, at the core, we should never lose the childhood imagination that helps us dream, hope, and experience joy.
We need look no further than God’s own creation to see that God has a divine imagination, manifested in us.
This summer, let’s remember to have a little fun and imaginative play. After all, we are always God’s children. Let’s act like it.
Veronica Szczygiel, PhD. is the Director of Online Learning of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University.