Imagination is a uniquely human trait. No other living creatures have the capability to dream up entire new worlds, or alternate situations, or music, or art. Our imaginations are surely a gift from the Creator. “Here,” the author of humanity might have said, “have this; this is special, just for you. See how far you can stretch your understanding of what is, and come up with what might someday be.”
Imagination, though, has a tendency to become something dark and deep and terrifying. In the last few days, I have said and heard the phrase, “I can’t imagine,” over and over again. Except, we can imagine. It is a uniquely human trait.
When my first child was an infant, I spent an unsettling amount of time imagining ways he could die. What if I tripped while I was carrying him down the stairs? What if a blanket covered his face at night and I didn’t see it? What if he choked on a small toy? What if a poisonous spider crawled into his crib and bit him? What if I took him on an airplane and we crashed in the middle of a cornfield? What if—what if—a-series-of-increasingly-horrifying-and-unlikely-what-ifs? Every time that the part of my brain ruled by fear got rolling, I would think, “something in me is broken. Normal people don’t think these awful things. Their imaginations do not get so twisty.” Except, now, after my third child and countless conversations with other parents, I believe they do. Maybe not the same scenarios, but the same universal panic- “What if something happens that I either cause or can’t control and I lose him for good?” It is surely a prehistoric defense mechanism, one designed to let us scan the landscape for danger, and do what we can to protect the helpless.
“What if my father dies and I am devastated and one month later I am stressed out at work but it is my five-year wedding anniversary and I pick up my beloved son from daycare on a bright Friday afternoon and I am so distracted and out of my routine that I forget he is there and I don’t realize my terrible mistake until…?”
No. I doubt any parent has had that specific run of the imagination, but my brain has brought me close. I doubt my friend’s husband ever had those exact thoughts, but surely he had a myriad of other fears for his son.
Just a few days ago, I learned that a friend of mine since we were giggly junior high girls had lost her only child. Not due to illness or intent, but by a horrific oversight, a young couple will now have to bury their baby.
I can’t imagine how she is functioning today. I can’t imagine how he remembers how to breathe. I can’t imagine how he can comfort her when he cannot forgive himself. I can’t imagine that bone-deep sorrow they feel at the loss of the baby they loved so fully. I can’t imagine the gaping chasm that leers up at them and promises a lifetime of pain and regret and blame and grief. I can’t imagine how they could possibly go on.
My solace is this (their solace will be this): The redeeming work of Jesus Christ has promised them a hope and a future. Their lives, and their son’s life, have been bought by the blood that was willingly shed on a cross, so that they would be able to look at the deep chasm and turn their backs to it.
My friend and her husband have dedicated their careers to serving the underserved, they have given voice to the voiceless, they stand up for the oppressed and the hopeless, they love the unlovable ones. It is a model of the life Jesus led on earth.
They are now facing a changed landscape. Their life together will never look the way they imagined it would. But through the power and the promise of The God Who Sees, they will never be alone, even in their loneliest moments.
My prayer for them is this: That they are surrounded by people who will shield them from the Enemy who is speaking through the voices of strangers. That they are instructed to turn their eyes to the Lord and not to the world. That they are carried on the backs of those who are stronger. That they not grow weary of doing good- for themselves, for each other, and for the people they serve. That they will let themselves be served rather than be servants. That they are given moments of blessed laughter in the middle of their tears. That God fiercely protects their marriage and their minds. That justice will be sure and swift. That the Holy Spirit groans in anguish on their behalf, saying the words they cannot, and that the Spirit whispers peace directly into their hearts. That they will be able to eventually use this broken-hearted new life to the glory of the risen King.