The human imagination is one of the reflective attributes of God transferred to man at the time of creation. Our imagination allows us to create a thought from a previous experience, or create a new thought by pulling independent fragments from our memory and weaving them together to form mental images of something we have never seen or experienced before.
For example, you are standing next to the fireplace warming up from the chill of a cold rain and begin thinking about last summer’s Tahiti Island vacation. You close your eyes and visualize the many sights and sounds associated with the long, white, sandy beach and tropical greenish-blue water. You can hear the water lapping on the shore. You can see yourself lying down on one of the blue-and-white-striped beach chairs, resting in the shade of a row of coconut palms, their trunks bending seaward to meet the morning sun. Further down the beach are several colorful overturned fishing boats; the bow of each boat is draped with an orange fishing net drying in the sun. A warm, gentle, sea breeze carries the refreshing scent of the ocean and the sound of an occasional seagull swooping down toward the blue-green water and back up again.
Even if you have never been to Tahiti, there were sufficient descriptive triggers in this example that allowed your imagination to replicate a seaside vacation. The words we used to describe the beach scene were already in your memory. Your mind can conjure up the two blue- and-white-striped chairs, a row of seaward-bending coconut palms, and some overturned boats draped with fishing nets. Your imagination did this by going into memory and pulling up an assortment of beach scenes, palm trees, boats, and fishing nets stored from previous experiences. These images came from glossy calendars, resort advertisements, movies, photos, or a description from someone’s vacation. Your imagination pulls all the details, edits what it wants or needs, and then creates a completely new scene. Once the imagination creates it, the mind does not soon forget it.
The popular website, “Pinterest,” is a collection of individuals’ decorative art, fashion, and home organizing ideas. At the birth of each example was someone’s inspiration, fueled by the imagination, which led to the creation of something new and different. Then someone else visits the page, becomes inspired, and by using her imagination, creates something entirely new. There is no end to what the imagination can create once motivated! However, since human imagination is subject to a free-will thought process, it can serve both good and wrongful pleasures.
How Does it Work?
The imagination is stimulated by one of three activities:
- Action or activity
- Strong emotions
- Sensual arousal and curiosity
Although the Tahitian beach scene contained some action: the waves, gentle breezes, and swooping seagulls, and even some emotions associated with wanting to return to a warm place, it did not have any sensual triggers. Your imagination was working for non-sexual enjoyment, comfort, and pleasure. However, every human being equally possesses the ability to conjure up what the Bible refers to as evil imaginations. Genesis 6:5 says “…every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This is why we need to protect the imagination.
Protecting the Power of the Imagination
The only things protecting our minds (and the minds of our children) are the boundaries we place on our thought life. The child exposed to unfiltered scenes of violence becomes tethered to those scenes. The scenes are collected and stored in memory and become accessible to the child’s imagination. The young teenager exposed to pornography will respond to any real-life situation that reminds him of the pornographic images. This happens because the various images and associated vocabulary that are now stored in his (or her) memory become the incidental triggers, moving the mind to create imaginary scenes of arousal that are similar to what is already stored in his memory.
An important area where we need to set boundaries to keep the imagination from running wild is imparting sexual knowledge to our children. Children who receive sexual knowledge before they are morally or emotionally ready to process such knowledge are most vulnerable. Words and body parts that are specifically tied to sexual pleasure are stored in the arousal section of the brain and become vulnerable to outside triggers. Images flashing on a screen, lyrics of a song, or a roadside billboard can arouse curiosity leading to fantasy. In order to satisfy the brain’s reward circuits, pursuit and experimentation become the dominant impulses. All of a parent’s good intentions, guarded words, and biblical study of purity can be undermined in minutes when a child is prematurely introduced to sexual knowledge. In contrast, the absence of specific sexual knowledge means a young child’s moral imagination cannot be wrongfully strained, challenged, or forced to bring up sexual images or create inappropriate thoughts. This is all part of keeping childhood innocence—innocent!
Parents cannot police their child’s moral imagination but they can protect it by maintaining a life-giving home environment that marches in step with the Philippians 4:8 anthem: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
This excerpt was taken from Protecting the Innocence of Childhood by Gary & Anne Marie Ezzo. If you’d like more information on protecting your child’s innocence or are interested in taking a class on this topic, please visit GrowingFamilies.Life.