In many great stories, someone from our world ventures into a new and exciting one: Alice stumbles into Wonderland, Lucy discovers Narnia, and Dorothy is carried into Oz. Likewise, a compelling story can temporarily transport its audience to a new world. However, many of us know people with an obsession for fantasy fiction so intense they are completely lost within it. Fantasy worlds are substituted for reality, causing these fans to cease functioning in the real one, neglecting their responsibilities, friends, families and physical well-being. Instead, they become engrossed in books, video games, movies, fan fiction and comics. Completely disengaging from life in this way may appear irrational, but those who do it are often running from something — a crisis, low self-esteem, pain or failure. They cope by finding an escape.
“Escapes” are gifts from God. On the seventh day of creation, God himself rested (Genesis 2:2). Later, Jesus affirms this day was set aside for our benefit (Mark 2:27), and He withdrew to be alone on multiple occasions (Luke 9:10, 22:41, etc.). We all can probably testify to the reinvigorating effects of vacation, a workout or an excursion. Just taking a moment to pull away and catch one’s breath is immensely valuable. However, there is potential for abuse. Sometimes, short escapes are extended until the pain or challenge confronting us disappears — or is numbed. While this is an appealing route, Jesus commands us to take up our crosses and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). We are not called to take the easy route.
At various times I have struggled with loneliness, discouragement, defeat, heartache or mind-numbing boredom. My family moved often, meaning I constantly had to make new friends; my brother has completely turned his back on our family; I have struck out so far in the romance department, and as a 25-year-old student, I long for graduation and meaningful employment. In other words, my life can appear empty and unadventurous. I doubt I am alone in these feelings. This is where fantasy has a strong pull. In good fantasy fiction, the setting and action are vivid; the characters are so compelling that they take on a life of their own, and it revolves around some epic adventure. The stories, characters and adventure can feel so real that the reader feels part of the story.
When we are lonely, fantasy can allow us to feel like we are among friends willing to fight and die for one another. When we feel discouraged or defeated, it is heartening to witness the heroes doggedly pulling together after a setback to keep fighting. When life seems dull and meaningless, we can dive into an adventure. These qualities make for outstanding fiction. The problem is that in these moments, it is too easy to become consumed by fantasy at the expense of reality.
Inherent in these feelings is the lie that it is impossible to satisfy our God-given yearnings for companionship, meaning and adventure. In reality, our purpose “is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever,” according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Glorifying God is a grand task and the worthiest adventure. Enjoying God forever is to be eternally His companion. In an astonishing act of grace, God further assembled all His companions into the church to join together in this adventure. When we plug into a good church and form meaningful connections within it, we encounter like-minded Christ-followers possessing virtues such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Possessors of such traits make for mighty friends — companions worthy of the greatest quest. This is important because Christ has called the church to accomplish mighty feats in His name, such as proclaiming the Gospel to the world, making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), providing justice for the weak (Isaiah 1:17), ministering to the poor (Matthew 25:35-40) and taking on the very gates of Hell (Matthew 16:18). Christ has provided us with more potential friends and epic quests than we could possibly handle in one lifetime.
While the easy route of escaping from reality might be enticing, we are called to greater things. For those constantly tempted to escape into fantasy, I encourage you to self-assess. Just because your life does not currently resemble an adventure tale does not mean you are condemned to a life devoid of friends, purpose or adventure. By engaging in a church and other ministry opportunities, you will find Christ filling your life with great companions and adventures. Visits to Narnia or Middle Earth are good for the soul in small doses, but they should not be used as permanent escapes from living your God-given life.
Corbin Payne is an avid reader, outdoorsman, disability rights advocate, and third-year law student in Knoxville, Tenn.
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