Faith, hope, & love. These three easily recognizable Christian virtues from 1 Corinthians 13:13 are also widely valued as human characteristics that benefit ourselves and our society. All 3 require an element of imaginative thinking. To have faith, we must believe in a God bigger than ourselves and our own limited conceptions. We hope in a future and eternity that we do not physically see, but must imagine. We love others best when we imagine them as God sees them–immeasurably valued and worthy of glorification through Christ.
Imagination enriches our lives in many other ways too. Getting lost in a book, dreaming up new businesses, playing make believe with a child. But when imagination gets misplaced into the hands of an idealist, things get messy.
Idealism sounds nice but has some fairly nasty side effects. At it’s essence, idealism is the practice of forming expectations about the way the world should operate, especially unrealistically (the dictionary’s words, not mine). When we start projecting our idealism on a very real world, we set ourselves up for disappointment at best and destruction at worst.
My imaginative ideas about what makes the world better might not actually be good or wise. Or even if I do happen to strike on a good vision of what the world ought to look like, the way I go about forcing my will on reality will probably hurt others in the process.
But what happened to our hope, our faith, and our love? Don’t those require some idealism?
Not necessarily. We need our imaginations to develop our virtues and we need optimism to live out those virtues in this often confusing and hard life. But idealism and optimism are not the same thing.
The optimist is full of hope for the future whereas the idealist insists that the future fit their vision. The optimist seeks ways to make the world a kinder place while the idealist works to make the world their kind of place.
Well-intentioned optimists can easily become dangerous idealists when imagination is misplaced. Living in a country where I don’t speak the language has taught me that the hard way. Things never go as planned and insisting on forcing my vision inevitably leads to frustration. I’m slowly learning to redirect my imagination and view this world with optimism instead of idealism. It’s a process for us perfectionists but I believe it’s worth it.
The last installment of my Misplaced series will hit the blog next week! It’s about one of my favorite topics–budgeting and personal finance. Thanks for following along so far!