Alexis responded “Stop distracting me!”
Sophie came back with “I’m just trying to cheer you on.”
Alexis gently replied “I know, but I need it to be quiet.”
Finally, thank goodness, there was silence. Alexis began playing one of her songs on the piano. Much to my exasperation, halfway through the song, Sophie couldn’t help herself and blurted out “Good job!”
A distracted Alexis fumbled her notes, stopped playing and reprimanded Sophie. I decided it was finally time for me to intervene.
You are probably thinking right now that I have two daughters, Alexis and Sophie. These would be logical conclusions.
But my daughter, Kristen, does not live in a world of logic. She lives in Imaginary Ville. And Imaginary Land. And then, of course, there’s Imaginary World. Kristen has hundreds of imaginary friends – some are people, some are animals, and, two of them, Sophie and Alexis, are her hands – Alexis is her left hand and, Sophie, her right.
Having a daughter this creative presents a constant parenting challenge. How do I balance encouraging her to develop this incredible gift with making sure she lives somewhat in reality? How do I make sure she is able to stay focused and complete the tasks that are expected of her? Should I correct her when she tells her friends that her imaginary friends are in fact real and not pretend? Should I be embarrassed when people are looking at her at the airport because she is talking to one of her imaginary friends as if she is right there?
For the most part I have chosen to allow my daughter to live in her imaginary world without bringing her back too often to reality, but I frequently question myself. I wonder why God gave me this particular challenge, and if I am handling it correctly.
One day, I felt like I would explode if I had to listen to one more story about Lulu and Lucy, Kristen’s favorite imaginary sisters. Don’t get me wrong, I have come to know and love many of Kristen’s imaginary friends through the stories she tells me about them. But, after you have listened for literally hours, to every detail about a group of people, real or imagined, you reach a breaking point. There seems to be a never-ending well within Kristen that flows with more and more ideas about Lucy and Lulu, and sometimes I just do not have the energy for one more sip.
Then, I had an “a-ha” moment – I redirected Kristen to write down her stories about Lulu and Lucy! She was 7 at the time, and multiple teachers had told me to encourage her in the area of creative writing. Her writing about her imaginary friends would satisfy her need to get these stories out of her head, and I could take a break, right? Wrong. Kristen loved the idea, but it did not replace her need to tell me the stories about her imaginary friends. She would now just write them down first, before reading them to me word for word. In fact, now that they were written down, I got to hear stories over and over again.
Another brilliant idea came to me about how I should be using Kristen’s imagination as a teaching moment, to help her understand the spiritual nature of God. These people are real to my daughter in the same way that God is real to me, I thought. Even though everyone else doesn’t see Him, I know He is real. I talk to Him and He speaks to me in ways that other people don’t always understand. I should try to help my daughter understand spirituality by comparing my relationship with God to her relationship with her imaginary friends!
But then came the questioning voice – what if her friends really aren’t “real” to her? What if she knows deep down they are just figments of her awesome imagination? Or, what if, right now, at 8, she thinks they are real, but some day, she will realize they are in fact pretend? If I have compared her imaginary friends to Jesus, will she then draw the conclusion that Jesus is also not real? Why is parenting so hard and where is the manual?
I was working through this quandary around the same time that Kristen was to receive her third grade Bible in front of our church congregation. She couldn’t understand why in the world she had to receive a Bible in front of everyone. She asked me over and over why it was so important. I tried to explain that the Bible is the word of God, that it is how we learn about God and that it will be a really important part of her life, but it did not resonate. She would just make a pouty face and insist that she was not going to go up in front of the entire congregation.
When we got to church on Sunday, the children’s minister agreed we should not force Kristen to go up to receive her Bible if she really did not want to. Instead, we sat in the front row so that the minister could bring the Bible to her. This day certainly wasn’t going how I had pictured it.
But then, when the minister called all the third graders up to the front of the church, Kristen had a change of heart. She went up with the others, got her Bible and sat back down for the rest of the service. Afterwards, after we all fawned over her, told her how proud we were, and took the obligatory picture to post on Facebook, the most amazing thing happened.
Kristen opened her Bible, and saw pictures and special sections that described the Bible stories at a child’s level. The most interesting, child-appealing stories were bookmarked in a special Table of Contents. Each of the stories had a picture of the person and a heading that said “My Name is Esther” or “My Name is David” or “My Name is Joshua.” Kristen’s eyes came to life when she saw this!
Without any prompting, she actually started to read her Bible! She was so excited, she even brought the Bible to lunch with us so she could keep looking at it. Right there in front of me, I watched my daughter become enthralled with the characters of the Bible in the same way she lights up about her imaginary friends, and all of a sudden, I realized something.
While it is true that the gifts God has given Kristen will be used to help her connect with Him, it is not my job to figure out how. I didn’t have to explain anything to her to make her excited about God. As always, I just had to sit back, show up and be willing to be present for God to work around me.
The next time I have the privilege of listening to a conversation between Sophie and Alexis, I will most certainly have to gently redirect Kristen back to practicing the piano. It is my job to help her figure out how to balance her creativity with getting things done. However, making sure she can connect with the Holy Spirit, and ensuring her salvation, are beyond the scope of my responsibilities as a mother.
I don’t have to force a major life lesson into our piano practicing session, or any other time we share together. I can trust that she is ultimately a child of God, and that He will provide and teach her the spiritual and life lessons she needs to learn. While I may be responsible for making sure my children have bread to eat, it is only our Heavenly Father who can provide them with the bread of life, Jesus Christ.
What a relief!