When is the last time you broke into spontaneous laughter?
When is the last time you broke into a huge grin out of genuine delight?
When is the last time you were surprised by a moment of joy?
I’m convinced that sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is PLAY.
Yet, I cannot say I know many Christians, especially Christian leaders, that are known for how joyously they play.
What if we saw play as holy?
What if play could be a glimpse of the better that is coming?
I really believe play reminds us of the way things are supposed to be.
Karl Barth described joy in our world as a “defiant nevertheless.” Our world is broken, hurting and sinful, and YET there is joy, because God and God’s goodness continues to break into our world. Play is a way of practising this “defiant nevertheless” that sin, evil, brokenness in our world doesn’t win. Jesus wins. Jesus is coming back to set all things right. We can play and have joy now, even while knowing the world is broken. We can (and should) play now as a reminder to our very bodies, our minds and as a reminder to our neighbours in the world, that this is not the way things will always be. Play literally can be a taste of God’s in-breaking Kingdom. We can experience God’s joy, goodness, and creation the way it was intended to be. In play, we can delight in relationships without manipulation, titles, superiority or hierarchy. In play, we can delight in creation and all the gifts God has given. We are liberated and set-free. We live under grace. Let’s show it. WE can play now.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Letters and Papers from Prison” talks about finding ways to play during his challenging imprisonment. He read for pleasure, listened to music, played chess, engage friends in light topics in letters and told jokes. In play he experienced liberation from the system around him and play reminded him of his true liberation, under Christ.
Margaret Guenther states in play “We are freed from our compulsion for right answers, freed from the need to acquire and achieve, freed from anxiety by the transitory nature of play. With imagination as the generous supplier of raw materials, we can be rich beyond belief….” Doesn’t that sound inviting? Play helps us dream bigger.
Play is the activities one engages in freely that do not have any evaluation of productivity or performance attached to them. Play is a time of delighting in God, creation, and others properly, not for using, manipulating or seeking answers, but for enjoyment.
During a particularly dark time in my own life, when it felt like evil was winning all around me and I saw deeper brokenness in our world than I’d experienced before, God whispered to me “go play.” Which felt absolutely ridiculous. The first thing I did was buy some bubbles, which I hadn’t done since I was a little kid. It sounds ridiculous, even saying it now - but I’d forgotten to play for SO LONG. I needed to start practicing and remembering there is joy and fun in the world. There is goodness in the world. Evil does not win. We can play, stating a “defiant nevertheless” to our world.
When I talk to the leaders about play, they are the worst! So I’m guessing some of the things going through your mind right about now…
- I don’t have time for this
- how is that going to help a thing
- she can’t be serious
- I am not a child
For me, I too originally thought I had to EARN play. If I wasn’t as productive as I thought I should be during my work time, I’d take away my ‘play’ time on evenings or days off to try to make up for it, to try to catch up. Work was (and is) never-ending.
It did not help me - physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally - to eliminate play.
And let me tell you - it certainly didn’t help those I was leading and those around me.
Listen, play isn’t earned, it’s gift - delighting in the gifts of God. Just like the Gospel is pure gift.
WHAT kind of a Gospel am I living if I think I have to earn play? What God or idol-God have I created if this is the kind of God I think we have?…a god that makes me ‘earn’ play, freedom and delight. THAT is NOT our God. Instead, our God is full of joy, delight, creativity and liberation.
So how can you be intentional about including play in your weekly rhythms?
What did you enjoy doing as a kid that you haven’t done in forever? What would you like to try that you’ve never tried? What’s play for you? How much time in a week do you spend playing?
May I suggest we need at least 30 minutes of play a day, and a day a week for play.
Go ahead look ridiculous! Join a ball hockey league, pick-up basketball game, painting class, golf club, dust off the crokinole game, pull out a craft box… Invite others to join you in play, kids are excellent teachers at this.
And on that note, I’m off on vacation and looking forward to lots of play time!