The best two moments of my summer thus far sprung from two things normally not high on my yay! list: pulling thistles from the jumble of pine trees and junipers that form the woods in our backward and driving a gaggle of middle school boys across town to lacrosse practice.

What made these favorites? That in both instances I was treated to the wild, wooly and wonderful imaginations of kids at play. While I pulled weeds, two girls on the other side of the fence play-acted a story in which they kept twisting the plot. While I drove carpool, the boys designed desks of the future. (And if there are any venture capitalists out there, you may want to get in on these ideas! I already placed an order.)

I was delighted by what I overheard. While so many ramble on about how "kids today" no longer know how to play or to pretend because of their e-gadgets, I eavesdropped on proof otherwise. "Never fear, world!" I wanted to yell. "Kids still know how to pretend."

Trouble is, turns out, the world doesn't really care. At least, according to a new study. Imagination is not a value parents are too concerned with.

When posted a story on the 2010-2014 World Values Survey and offered readers a chance to align 11 values with countries from around the world, I listed Imagination and Faith as No. 1 and 2 and left Thrift and Obedience as No. 10 and 11 ... naturally.

Then I wondered which creative, innovative lands would share my belief that nothing (not even faith—bear with me) is more important to teach kids than imagination. Would it be the good old US of A? Would it be Sweden, land of my ancestors? Cuba, from whence my in-laws emigrated? Australia, the place I've longed to visit?

Nope. Nope. Nope. And more nope. It would be none of them. Not one country surveyed listed Imagination as No. 1. Not only was Imagination not prized among the nations, it came in last in Eastern European and Balkan states, as well as among Asian and Latin American countries. Last. No. 7 was its highest ranking. (Thanks for that, at least, Australia.)

This left me wondering what on earth was wrong with my fellow citizens of the world.

Without imagination, life would terrible, only the concrete here and now, the right in front of our faces. No imagination means we're not asking questions about the past, the future, the faraway, or the other—on this world or beyond. Without imagination, every other "value" on that survey list is worthless.

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Why teach our kids to work hard or be responsible if they can't imagine the career they'll one day love or the world they'll inherit? Why teach obedience or thrift or perseverance if they can't imagine the upsides of those often grueling disciplines? They'd all be empty.

Imagination is a practical means for achieving and enabling these kinds of more commonly valued skills. After all, we teach kids to be selfless or tolerant by asking them to imagine what another person might be thinking or feeling, what it is to walk in their shoes. We teach self-expression through the various creative and imaginative forms of art, storytelling, and problem-solving.

Most importantly to Christians around the globe, how—and why—do we pass on faith if our kids can't imagine the God of the universe, the Creator of this world?

Without imagination—without the ability to picture what is unseen, to believe what is unknown—how can we have faith? Without imagination, without the ability to imagine a "preferred future," how can we hope? Without imagination, how can we experience the majesty and wonder and nearness of a mysterious God?

I say: we can't. And because of that, a proper Theology of Imagination is in order. Starting with, a clarification. Just as the girls play-acting family life reflected very real families and just as the boys' desks of the future are likely possibilities, just because we imagine something doesn't make it unreal. Just because we pretend doesn't make it untrue.

As Rachel Marie Stone noted in her post on fairy tales, Harvard researcher Paul Harris has said, "the imagination is absolutely vital for contemplating reality, not just those things we take to be mere fantasy."

And so it is with our imagination and our faith. Imagining God—here with us, holding us, walking with us through dark valleys or high-fiving us on high mountains—doesn't mean he is not. Imagining God does not make him imaginary.

After all, God's behind this imagination business. God first fueled human imaginations when Adam and Eve were told the serpent's head would be crushed, when God led the heir-less Abraham to the stars as a way to count his descendents and when God promised the Israelites a land flowing with flow with milk and honey.

David tells us God plays a role in our heart's (imagined) desires (Ps. 37:4). And Paul praises the God who takes what we imagine and does one—or infinity—better (Eph. 3:20).

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And long before God set our imaginations loose, God's was at work. Before the world was made, God imagined it: seeing the light, the sky, the land, the waters, saying ,"let there be" before they ever were. And then God imagined creatures made in his image before he created us.

And so should we.

Because imagination matters. To God. And therefore, to us. When we imagine Jesus right there with us (as he is), our relationship with him deepens. When we imagine God hearing, considering our hard questions (as he does) as we fire them toward heave, our prayer (or lament) life sharpens. When we imagine the Holy Spirit fueling our steps, shoring up our words (as he does), our courage strengthens.

When we imagine, when we pretend, when we write silly songs or serious stories, when we make up games or drift off and dream, when we get lost in our big "What if?" questions, the mystery and wonder of this whole world and of the God who imagined and then created it opens before us.

When we imagine, our lives and our faith take flight. What can be a higher value than that?

Caryn Rivadeneira is a regular contributor to Her.meneutics and the author of Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed About God's Abundance (IVP, 2014) in which she writes more about imagination and mystery and other benefits of going broke.