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The Appeal of Fantasy
Our imaginations can contribute an increased awareness of abundance and blessedness to our lives, but they can also have the potential for negative outcomes.

The realization dawned on me slowly, perhaps because I’m a slow learner or perhaps because I’m susceptible to romantic illusions. I “got smart” while lost in the pages of a murder mystery by Diane Mott Davidson, lingering over the description of the detective’s perfect husband. He was handsome, strong and sensitive. He was also a brave and dependable cop, rescuing the detective when she was in danger. Plus, he could whip up fabulous food whenever she needed sustenance and comfort. As the light bulb switched on in the dim crevices of my grey matter, I exclaimed, “Wait a minute! He’s a fantasy husband!”

Fantasy is a dimension of human experience drawn from, but not bound by, concrete reality.

When I shared my profound insight with my husband and son, they both responded with looks that were a mixture of wariness and concern, the kind we offer someone when they’re on the verge of embarrassing themselves. My husband, choosing safety, remained silent. My son offered carefully, “That’s why they call it fiction, Mom.”

Fantasy is a dimension of human experience drawn from, but not bound by, concrete reality. Fantasy is related to imagination. Working with Webster’s definitions, fantasy is “the free play of creative imagination.” To imagine is “to form a mental image of [something that is not present].” We use fantasy in many ways and for many reasons.

Our fantasies—our imaginations—can contribute to an increased awareness of the abundance and blessedness of our lives.

Young people may fantasize about when they are grown up, of the work or family life they may have, and of freedom to pursue their own interests. A newly married couple may imagine the future: the life they are building together, the children that might join their family, their ideal home. An athlete might use fantasy to realize a perfect game, a flawless move. Someone who is ill with cancer may actively imagine a time when his or her body is cancer-free. It is easy to see positive potential in such fantasies. They might get us through adversity, strengthen our commitments, compel us to do our best, and aid us in living well today so that our tomorrows are more complete.

But fantasies also have the potential for negative outcomes. Instead of using our imaginations to dream with our loved ones, or to propel ourselves to health, we may go down unhealthy paths. The perfect spouse in the mystery novel becomes preferable to the spouse in one’s own home. The perfect body on the Internet becomes preferable to the warm, real body to which one has made a commitment. The stories being played out in movies and on television can be more engaging than the story of one’s own life.

The life of Jesus was given that human life might be more full and whole. As He tells His friends: “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 paraphrased). Our fantasies—our imaginations—can contribute to an increased awareness of the abundance and blessedness of our lives. Or fantasies can breed dissatisfaction and deprivation in us.

Author Philip Gulley offers a different kind of fantasy than the one found in my opening story. In Signs and Wonders, a wife reflects on her husband’s qualities after a particularly unhappy family vacation, one planned by her husband. She thinks about how much he’s like his father and momentarily feels disappointed by that realization. Then she considers other characteristics of her father-in-law: his respect, the way he loves his wife and his steady faithfulness. With those thoughts, she concludes, “[I]f he turns out like his father, that wouldn’t be so bad.”

Such fantasies help us appreciate what we’ve got.

Melissa Miller (familyties@mts.net) lives in Winnipeg, where she ponders family relationships as a pastor, counsellor and author.

Originally published in Canadian Mennonite, October 2009.

Used with permission. Copyright © 2009 Christianity.ca.

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