Observing the carefree play of children on a summer’s day awakens a sense of lost innocence in all of us. How is it that we have become so earnest about not wasting a minute and of equating time with money? No wonder the playful child living in us fades from view and the worker-bee leads the charge!
Breathtaking vistas might emerge at every turn, but we wear blinders that block our view. If we lose our capacity for play, we risk retarding growth in the life of the spirit and forfeiting the contemplative experience of presence to the Divine Presence.
When life becomes a task to be done, we minimize the leisure that lets us be. We make so many demands upon ourselves that we consign play to the clip board of functional accomplishment.
Given this emphasis on sheer functionalism, is it possible to resurrect the enchantment of childhood? Will this stressful state prevail or can we restore the rhythm between playfulness and spiritual living? Scripture reminds us of what has to occur:
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said,
“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Lk 18: 15-17).
The invitation to spiritual childhood does not detract from our duty to labor in the vineyard of the Lord. There is no reason to let useful accomplishments cancel the recreation we need to revitalize our energy.
The Sabbath Day encourages us to pray in Church and to play in the social hall! It reminds us to do the best we can and leave the rest to God. It readies us to face the challenges of life without placing undue pressure on ourselves.
If we keep our nose to the grindstone at a relentless pace, like the string on an archer’s bow that has grown too taut, we may soon snap. Play has a value in its own right, but in a work-oriented society its significance needs to be restored.
Far from diminishing our capacity to produce, play makes us more productive. It reveals the passing nature of our projects and prevents us from seeing their outcomes as ultimate. It alleviates us from suffering pangs of guilt in the face of inevitable failure.
Play eases the unrealistic demands we place upon ourselves; it is the seedbed of creative solutions. It is not the enemy of work; it is its undercurrent of excellence.
Instead of allowing the pile of unfinished work on our desk to depress us, we decide to take a walk in the park or play catch with the youngster next door. The spirit of play lets us return to the tasks at hand with renewed vigor.
While at play, unfinished plans and scattered pieces of information have time to incubate in our minds and imaginations; they mesh together like so many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. New solutions to old problems present themselves for our evaluation. We gain a fresh outlook on the tasks at hand whenever doing for its own sake gives way to being carefree yet still full of care.
Once we experience how play enhances work, we may begin to initiate positive changes in our life as a whole. We are not as tense and anxious as we used to be. We are less impatient with ourselves and others. We temper our deadly serious attitude toward life.
It becomes clear to us that playfulness is impossible when we feel weighed down with worry and refuse to waste a minute.
Despite the benefits of play for our physical, emotional, and spiritual life, the achievement mentality might be so strong that we even turn periods of leisure, like a vacation, into another occasion for labor.
Play frees that part of our personality that lies deeper than our ability to accomplish a task. It gathers our whole self together in a way that is comparable to what happens when we pray.
Our prayers become more trusting the moment we give ourselves over to God’s care. It is not we who play but the Spirit who plays in us.
Play helps us to realize that we do not always have to be achievers. The game of life goes on under the guidance of God, however many setbacks we may have to endure. When we play before the face of the Father, we celebrate the abundant goodness that embraces us moment by moment. In our limits we detect hidden blessings.
In moments of playful surrender to the mystery in and around us, we sense in awe that the Lord himself is at play in the universe. As control and rigidity flow out of our system, we cast our care upon his shoulders. We let go of the burdens we place upon ourselves and become like little children who trust in the Lord to shelter us from any foe.
Our time on earth becomes a prelude to our journey homeward to God in the everlasting play of paradise.