Don’t Overlook The Importance Of A Child’s Imagination When Teaching The Faith

by Advent and Christmas, Books | Our Favorite Catholic Books To Read, Family, Self-Knowledge

What if? 

Every movie, book, or play sees its genesis when someone somewhere utters those two words: what if?

What if a mammoth shark terrorizes a beach community?

What if a boy befriends a stranded extraterrestrial and works to help the being return home?

What if a young wizard must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents?

Imagination is a powerful tool, and when we enter into stories with our minds, we get the opportunity to grow as persons. We can determine if we’d be willing to hunt down that Great White, whether we’d be too frightened to bring an alien creature into our home, or whether we could summon up the guts to confront Evil Itself.

This principle is certainly true with children. By identifying with a specific character, a child can explore the limits of what he or she might do in the situation portrayed. Stepping into a story allows a child to experience the possibility of exhibiting great courage, wise decision-making, or tender compassion.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” said Albert Einstein. “For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

So, while facts and figures are important in educating the child, utilizing the imagination helps form the character, and stories can be critically important in accomplishing this. While passing along to children the truths and tenets of the Catholic faith is a must, engaging the imagination is essential in developing a deeper connection to God.

Jesus knew this. Faith is not just about rules; it’s about relationship. As the Master Storyteller, He invites his listeners to relate to the people in his parables. It’s as if He says, “Run away with the prodigal son, and see what it is like to return to mercy.” Or “Accept the challenge to give up everything you own in order to possess something greater.” In short, He asks his listeners to repent, to undergo a true metanoia – a total change in one’s life – and see what they become.

Kids are exceptionally adept at taking on the persona of someone else. “I’m the Mom, and you’re the baby,” one child might say during play. Another will pick up a long stick and be transformed into a valiant knight. A third might don a cape and fearlessly “fly” off to save the universe.

I remember that when I was a child, I embraced books with main characters who were around my age. I could relate to them, understand their struggles, and grow in virtue with them through the course of the story. And in my faith life, I always wondered what it would have been like to live at the time of Jesus, to see Him, touch Him, and experience his teachings and healings firsthand.

In the faith-based books I write today for kids and teens, I try to give them a taste of what it might have been like to meet Jesus in the flesh. I do that by crafting young main characters in my stories who interact with Jesus and find their lives transformed by the encounter. 

Christmas in particular is a wonderful time to share the Gospel with children. The beauty of the season is captivating as it reflects the incredible gift of the Incarnation. The mystery and love that permeate the Nativity story have enormous appeal to children and to the adults who share the Gospel account with them.

This Christmas, try something new. When you share the story of the Nativity with kids, invite them to imagine being a character present at the birth of Our Lord. Who do they visualize themselves to be, and what do they see, feel, hear? What would they say to the Holy Family? What might they picture themselves doing for the Baby Jesus? 

This Advent, when you pick up the Gospel to read to a child about the birth of Christ, or when you share a picture book that beckons a child to approach the manger, ask yourself some questions:

What if this story could help this child grow in faith?

What if he or she could become closer to God?

What if, in sharing this story with a child, you yourself could become a saint?

What if?

Don’t miss Claudia’s newest book, The Christmas Light!

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