Last week I proposed the question to us, “When Did I Forget to Play?” I wrote about how we’ve been bound up in a system that claims play is only for the youngest children at home tinkering with their blocks or building sculptures out of play-do. I referred to it as a kidnapping, a snatching up of the seeds of our playfulness. We see the results in the way we idolize efficiency and excellence in our work, how we crave practicality in our activities and feel guilty over wasted time, and how we manage to even see the people in our life as projects.
As an adult, play feels rebellious. Restoring the rhythms of play in our life is a refusal to define success or our usefulness primarily through a lens of visible results and recognizable achievements.
Through play, we gleefully declare our days to be an experiment, an invitation to exploration and tiny risks, surprising encounters and messy endeavors.
My husband has taught me how and reminded me repeatedly to play. Whether, it’s a business idea, a creative pursuit, my homeschooling plans, or my prayers, I hear his words echoing in my mind, “Don’t forget to play.” He knows how I get when I don’t. Uptight. Emotional. Tired. Overly strategic. Easily discouraged.
I take life too serious.
He, on the other hand, is mostly like a puppy. His whole face seems to smile all the time. If you’ve met him you know what I’m talking about. He doesn’t carry agendas with God or people, isn’t afraid to rub up against the systems of stale and feisty religion, watches movies without the guilt of feeling like he should be doing something else, tickles the kids way too close to bedtime, and tells me regularly that his work feels like he gets to play with legos all day. In him, I see someone who takes play seriously.
In a world hung up on hustle and go-getters and goal keepers, how can we discover our playful side again, you wonder? In neighborhoods, churches, and workplaces stifling creativity, erasing wild colors, and building boring structures and placing systems over every free, open space, how can we be the ones to restore the rhythms of play?
Here are 5 simple, yet forgotten ways to put play back into our days:
- Read poetry. Start with Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, or EE Cummings. Poetry requires one to stop and savor what is being said. Much like play, we become open to wonder and imagination as we process the author’s mysterious words. Besides Shel Silverstein, I have always had a fear of poetry. I felt like I didn’t have the time or the knowledge to try to decode the deep meanings of nonsensical words in complicated rhythmic patterns. However, over the past few months I’ve been trying again. Due in part to this podcast from Joy Clarkson and a continuing revelation that God’s nature and way of speaking to us is much more poetic than straightforward discourse.
- Consider this challenge from my new poet friend Wendell Berry (I know… how can I only now be discovering him now!): “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute…Give your approval to all you cannot understand…Ask the questions that have no answers.”
- Let go of your desire to know the outcome. Experimenting and failure are inseparable from a playful life. If you always wait until you have the whole picture in front of you before you take the step or make the move, I’m sorry but life will be like dry toast, tasteless and boring.
- Don’t overthink it. If you catch yourself caught in the loop of what-ifs, or if you are analyzing decisions from every angle…stop it! Nothing kills our playful nature more than our spinning fearful thoughts.
- Break one of your own rules every day. I’m sure you can think of a few rules you live by. (Always sit in the back, never speak up, always go to bed by 9 pm, never run in the rain, always pray quietly, never cry in front of someone)
The list is endless, but I wanted to at least get us started in the right direction. I’d love to hear what else you can think of!
I will leave you with this quote from one of my favorite books, The Rest of God, by Mark Buchanan:
“Of all the things Jesus meant when He exhorted his disciples to be childlike, few dare to suggest he wanted them to play more. But maybe he did. Maybe all the other virtues of childhood- trust, humility, simplicity, innocence, wonder- are not separate from a life of playfulness, but the fruit of it: that apart from cartwheels and kite flying, leap frog and hide-and-seek, snakes-and-ladders and digging for buried treasure, all those other things wither.”
Perhaps it’s time we take play more serious?