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Work Hard, At (Dragon) Play

Boy playing with dragons

Whatever you do, don’t breathe a word of this post to Gabe. He has no idea I took these pictures. He’d be mortified if he knew you knew that he did battle with a dragon yesterday.

Gabe started sixth grade last week and Gabe still works hard at his play. At imagination. And as much as I pray his imagination thrives until the day he dies, I’m aware that there probably won’t be too many more dragon battles.

That’s why I had wet eyes.

Never Laugh at a Live Dragon

I don’t laugh at dragons. Yesterday I almost cried, but I wouldn’t dare laugh. The full quote is “Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool! he said to himself and it became favorite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb.” If you haven’t guessed, it’s from The Hobbit.

Saturday night Gabe said he couldn’t put his figures away because he hadn’t finished the battle. He’d assembled the Playmobil warriors Friday morning. Then life took over, the fair and friends came, and the army waited, helmets on, swords in hand- for 48 hours on the couch in the back room.

Until Gabe woke early Sunday morning to do the great work of imagination: to make dragon and men do battle.

Too many of us grow up and we forget about imagination. We forget that we still need imagination to grow spiritually. Reality can be beaten, G.K. Chesterton said, with imagination.  I still believe it.

So last night when Gabe asked, not really out of the blue, “Mom do you think there really were dragons, that even breathed fire?” I paused.

“Gabe, I think maybe there were.”

Not Too Old Too Imagine

You’re not too old. A sixth-grader is not too old to fight a dragon battle and you’re not too old to set your mind on things unseen. You are not too old to imagine. In fact, you might say, that’s part of your “calling” if you’re a Christian. It’s what we’re supposed to do.

Because imagination is not mere pretending. Merriam-Webster says it is the power of the mind to form images of things not present to the senses or within the actual experience of the person involved. Imagination is the ability to form an image in the mind, to see in the mind’s eye what is not present to the physical eyeTo these ears, that sounds remarkably Pauline!

  • As in 2 Corinthians 4:18: Look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
  • Or Ephesians 1:18: Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. 
  • And Colossians 3:2: Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 

You are not too old for this.

Narnia’s No Dream

One of my first and favorite JoyPrO posts was about imagination. It started with a 4 year old Sam making a face out of flower petals. But it ended with one of my favorite scenes in all of the chronicles of Narnia.

Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum the lanky, languid Marshwiggle are closing in on their rescue of Prince Rilian. The Prince had been captured and held hostage by the evil Queen of the Underworld who had him under her spell, believing there was no other world.

The Queen’s

…steady, monotonous thrumming…you didn’t notice after a few minutes. But the less you noticed it, the more it got into your brain and your blood.  This also made it hard to think.  

Narnia, said the witch thrumming, is all a dream.  There is no sun.  The lamp is the real thing, the rest is a children’s tale. And Aslan?  Why, he’s only a big, make-believe cat. (The Silver Chair, p. 182)

Then, just as the enchantment was almost complete, Puddleglum did a very courageous thing. He stomped his webbed Marshwiggle foot in the Queen’s enchanted fire. And there’s nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic. 

Live Like A Narnian

Puddleglum’s mind became perfectly clear, and this is what he said:

Suppose we have made it up.  All I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seems a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right.  I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it.  I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.  (p. 190-191).

If you’re “into” Narnia, maybe you’ve already adopted this  as your battle cry: Live like a Narnian!

Maybe you’ve already make it your battle to shake off dull sloth and joyful rise, and set your imagination on things above.

That is labor! Some of the most effortful work I do happens the first few minutes after my alarm clock goes off.

Do Battle (For Joy) Every Morning

Exertion is just as necessary for us as it was for Puddleglum if we’re to break free from the evil enchantment of the Underworld. We need to exert our minds to form images of what we can’t see right now. Imagination can break the spell of worldliness.

Gabe did battle with dragon Sunday morning. Every morning I have to do my own battle.

Most often it’s against discouragement, selfishness, and the pervasive pride of self-pity. If you wage war in bed first thing in the morning, you’re in good company.

John Piper explains the fight of faith as a fight for joy in the Lord; a battle “to continually recognize, see, savor, receive Jesus as more valuable” than anything in this world.

I get up every morning and fight that fight. Every morning, that’s my war. Am I wanting to look at Twitter before I look at Jesus? Sounds stupid. That’s how stupid sin is. So every morning, there’s war in the Piper household. It’s not against my family; it’s against me, and my old man that I have to reckon dead over and over again (Ephesians 4:22) and pray that the Holy Spirit that would poured out on me, that my eyes would be opened; I would see and savor Christ as supreme. That’s war. That’s called the life of faith. Faith is seeing, savoring, the supreme treasure of Christ.

Give Thanks First

George Mueller, a great man of faith, famously said,

Above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you…But I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls happy in God Himself…Day by day, seek to make this the most important business of your life.

It’s effortful. Other things will press upon you. But God’s grace has been teaching me to make this my first labor each day. So, I thank God- sometimes I force my selfish self- to thank God for 5 things before I roll out of bed.

That’s usually how my battle with the joy-stealing dragon begins.

Labor Each Day: Imagine Dragons. Fight For Joy.

G. K. Chesterton had a way with words. Some of my favorite quotes come from him, including this one: “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.

I did some digging and the quote is not exact. But it seems to be based on this bit from his essay “The Red Angel“: 

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Gabe was St. George on Sunday. Defeating the evil and the ugly. I was him this Labor Day- fighting evil and ugly- and pray I’ll be everyday.

But defeating an evil dragon is work. It’s noisy work sometimes.

Can You Handle The Noise?

After I snapped the pictures yesterday, I walked in, Bible and journal in hand,

Gabe, would you mind if I sit out here and read for a little while?

I was ready to leave and give him battle space, the pause was so long. Then the shrug,

Well mom, if you can handle the noise, it’s okay. 

I sighed the happiest of sighs. Doing dragon battle is noisy, but Gabe wasn’t ashamed.

Oh yeah, Gabe, I can handle the noise.

In fact, I love the noise. Because it’s the noise of real life.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:1-3, NLT

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Infected

Something bad happened, Mom. Trust me, you don’t want to know about it. 


So ended our easy Saturday morning.

I do want to know, Gabe, I assured, kneeling on the kitchen floor beside him.

As my heart sank to my socks, he showed me two of the most vulgar gestures I’ve seen in my life. My heart sank. But ever a prisoner of hope, I was solaced: Maybe it’s only meaningless mouth motions to him. Like when-innocent-he’d use his third digit to point. Maybe it’s just a gesture.

Short-lived and vain was that hope. Alas.

This one means a boy is…And that other one is what a girl does…

Proof positive. No doubt about it- Gabe was infected. The vile disease has touched our vibrant seven-year old. The boy who watches G was exposed to X, or R at least. The little one who has to be so careful what he sees in the days because it might transform to nightmare.

The son with the sensitive eyes- the son who won’t watch Wallace and Gromit for “weirdness,” and who covers his ears to block the voice of a Talking White Rabbit-this son saw that. He heard that.  

My heart fell fast and heavy. To stomach’s pit it sank. In the hush that alone could come through the lump, I asked,

Gabe, where did you learn that? Who showed you that?

Wide blue eyes to mine. Earnest, sober voice to me:

It was Evan, Mom, on the bus. I know I shouldn’t be his friend anymore. And a big boy-he showed Evan. He told me what it meant. But I don’t know his name. He doesn’t go to my school. 

And so Gabe caught the infection. His tender mind was tainted. His innocence was lost.

Yes, yes, and yes.

But it didn’t happen at the perverse tongue and sick gesturing hands of a big boy on the bus. It actually happened way before that. Neither Gabe, nor any of us, has every truly been innocent. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, wrote Israel’s sweet, sin-stained, Psalmist. 


Paul knew and we all know in our heart of hearts. We’re all infected with sin’s dread disease. And one day we’ll all die of it. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12).

In Mere Christianity (Book IV, Chapter 4) C.S. Lewis wrote about infections. Not all infections, he asserts, are bad.

Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them… Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?

Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ…We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has-by what I call ‘good infection’.  Every Christian in to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else. 

Our prayers have changed since Gabe got infected.

We pray that, though Gabe was exposed and is a carrier, God will keep keep him symptom-free. We pray he won’t infect others with this brand of the sin disease, and that he’ll be able to stay sensitive to the Spirit. We pray that he’ll resolve more now than ever before, not to set before his eyes anything that is worthless; that he, with King David, will keep a perverse heart far from him and know nothing of evil (Psalm 101:3a-4). We pray that this disease won’t keep spreading, that it’ll stay in remission.

And we pray for Evan and the big boy on the bus who infected him. We pray they will know Jesus and become Christians.  We want them to be healed.

We pray that those boys will catch the “good infection,” too.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  
1 Corinthians 15:22