Make Believe Makes Believers


My son plays happily. He flits easily between two worlds: the world that is and the world he imagines. His conversation assumes the extraordinary. His play is an adventure in make believe.

How like faith.

Perhaps nothing is more like faith than play. This “admission” would no doubt make Christians raised in an era of apologetic zeal begin to sweat. It may also delight anti-theist scolds, those champions of unhappiness and pretense.

But it is no great surrender to say faith is like play. If in a young boy’s imaginative play he sees himself brave and trustworthy in the good fight, then we are glad if he grows into a man who is like that in “the real world.” Likewise, if a little girl tenderly cares for a baby doll, devoting herself to its care while at play, then grows up to become a loving, tender mother, we are happy. And we should be. I call that good.

So child’s play is braided into the lifelong chords of faith. Part of life is anticipating, by faith, the right-side-up world. And it is deadly difficulty when it feels like the ceiling’s coming down all around us.

Part of the Christian life, perhaps the heart of it, is praying “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is holy imagination at work. This is a life of imaginative anticipation. Faith is play. It is playing at the most deeply true articles of the human charter.

Imagination is an essential capacity of faith.

Does our conversation assume the extraordinary? If it doesn’t, can we be Christians?

Jesus told us that children show us the way to the Kingdom. I believe he meant to commend both their lack of personal standing (they cannot cling to accomplishment as merit) and their capacity for deep dependence.

Children are suited for the Kingdom in their imaginative play. “Make believe” is one of the clearest avenues along the way to making us believers.

So, let them play. And join them.


  1. James Witmer

    Tight, succinct, and bang on target. Your question:

    Does our conversation assume the extraordinary?

    – is convicting and invigorating tonight.

    I love the first picture – that little guy looks as though he believes he can fly. Makes me grin.

  2. Heather E. Carrillo

    In a way you could see it as imagination, but “faith is the evidence of things unseen.” Evidence seems like one doesn’t have to rely solely on their imagination. I love this part, “Faith is play. It is playing at the most deeply true articles of the human charter.” Linking the play acting of children (good vs. evil) is a great thought!

    I’d like to know some Christians raised in an era of apologetic zeal. I like apologetics, and I was prepared to like this post, until I was told that I shouldn’t. Now I’m confused. Aside from the assumption that I’d sweat reading this, I loved it.

  3. Becca

    Sam, I always enjoy your writing. Also, your timing on this is great.

    Yesterday I spent a couple of hours doing something I am ashamed to admit I almost never do — I just sat in the presence of God. Not doing. Not making. I just met with Him.

    I wasn’t striving for some sort of meditative holiness, I was just so empty, I had to do it. While I was there, I fought a while. ‘Cried a while. Listened to hymns. Finally I just sat seeing what I knew was true but had forgotten. Slowly, I began visualizing what is beautiful, true, and other — making space in the day to import the unseen.

    When I was finished, this struck me very clearly: I imagine every day, whether I take time for it or not. But when I let my default lead, instead of imagining the true, I imagine the false. Forces work on heart whispering condemnation, discouragement, slander. I believe them without realizing they are (in truth) more false than the beautiful fairy tale I’ve been given.

    So from now on, I want to spend more time “seeing.” The gospel seems too good to be true, and I am cynical. I need to take time to become a child again.

  4. Lindsey

    “If in a young boy’s imaginative play he sees himself brave and trustworthy in the good fight, then we are glad if he grows into a man who is like that in “the real world.”

    I find myself often imagining life in the new heavens and the new earth. What will we eat at the banquet feast of the lamb? Will I get to dance with those I love under the tree of life? I picture my baby girl, who loves to play with string now, giggling as a slippery and tickly snake twists and wiggles around her arm like a living ribbon. A place with no danger, no hurt, no longing left. It is moments like these – lost in imagination- that give me the strength and vision to press on and work to make the “real world” more like the world I long for. It gives me the joy to dance here, the energy to prepare celebrations, and the peace of knowing that there is nothing truly dangerous in my Father’s will for me. When I picture “all things made new” in Jesus then, I strive to see things made new- though Jesus- here.

  5. Tony Heringer

    Bravo Sam! As I was reading this, the chords of Barliman’s “Little Boy Heart Alive” we’re playing in my head. Yes chords Yankeegosepelgirl or should we call you Grammar Girl?

    Love the pictures, the first one drew me into the post and the second made me wonder what adventure those three were headed towards – “The Road Goes Ever On”.

    A couple of days ago I read this line in Eugene Peterson’s “Practice Resurrection”:

    “Sin shrinks our imagination.”

    He goes on to talk about how our strategies to manage life end up making life in this world small.

    Thanks for a reminder this morning to employ the imagination as I unwrap the gift of Thursday February 16,2012!

  6. EK Bransom

    “This is holy imagination at work. This is a life of imaginative anticipation.”

    I was blessed to see Michael Card last summer on a trip to San Antonio. He was the guest preacher at the church we visited (no accident there). As he began his sermon, he asked us to not use our Bibles. Normally this request from a pulpit would have made me suspicious and uncomfortable. Having spent 30 years being blessed by his music and writing, I decided to trust him. His goal was to “capture our imaginations” as he unfolded the story of scripture. I go through ebbs and flows in my walk with God – sometimes very apologetic and scholarly, sometimes full of love and play. I hunger to be able to meld the two in an abiding walk that is full of wonder and intentional pursuit. Thank you for a reminder of how much God treasures our imagination and for adding a new dimension to my ponderings.

  7. Loren

    For me, too, this jumped out: “Does our conversation assume the extraordinary?”

    I know my “living out my faith” is daily challenged when I see my kids’ complete submersion in the reality of it. “Jesus loves me, this I know”–and they know it without any doubt. Their believing is complete seeing. I love to watch that, and it helps me tie my own fractured, grown-up parts together. I’ve recently had some great conversations with a fellow mom who doesn’t know Christ, and I’ve actually brought Jesus fully into the conversation. I haven’t just talked about God, but I’ve included Jesus and who he is to me in my everyday. It’s like severing the veil between my physical life and my spiritual. The imagination is becoming reality.

  8. Donna S

    With Ash Wednesday just days away, I’ve been pondering how to observe Lent in a way that would produce some permanent changes in my heart and mind. This post, and also the responses to it – especially Becca’s – have inspired me to spend some time daily in imaginative meditation. I’m really curious and excited to see what this unusual discipline will produce. Thanks for the inspiration!

  9. yankeegospelgirl

    🙂 I just wondered because he used the word “braided.” I was thinking “braided… cords… braiding into cords…” It seemed to fit better with the analogy he seemed to be making. But maybe he really did mean “chords.” I didn’t know for sure.

  10. Michael

    I really enjoyed this article. Well done, sir. I’m about to be the father of a little boy, and I can’t wait to encourage his little imagination. As you pointed out, imagination fuels the passion for the gospel.

  11. Loren

    Congratulations from here, Sam! We love the name “Clare” in our house, too. Our daughter Clarissa goes by Clare, which we specifically chose from my grandfather Clarence who always went by “Clare” 🙂 . That’s cool that your Norah Claire is named after her great-grandfather. We are so thankful for our Clare who lives up to her name as a brilliant light for Christ. May Norah grow brightly in that light as well.

  12. Zack

    I love these thoughts. They make me feel at home. Imagination is not a childish thing to put away when we grow “up.” I can look up to little ones for their inclination towards reality; I’ve already traded mine for selfishness and lies.

    Congratulations on your new little one, Sam!

  13. Jenn C

    “Part of life is anticipating, by faith, the right-side-up world.”

    You know, I never stop to do that in the smaller picture. My kids do all the time when they’re young – they imagine all sorts of things and bring life and imagination to the mundane and ordinary and sometimes to the hard and difficult. But I do the ‘grown-up’ thing and get through my day. I imagine the big picture, but not the small. I need to listen to my kids more often. I need to see more moments as the should be, as they will someday be. “It is what it is, but it is not what it shall be”. I’m going to do more thinking on the ‘shall be’. I wonder where God will take that…

  14. Wife, Mother, Gardener

    This makes me think of the gospel as being foolishness to the wise… and how many times I have experienced that reaction to my faith in the world.

    We are friends with a little girl in our small town who believed that she was a real princess! Such foolishness… or was it? 🙂

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