Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Discipline of Play

In my adult life, I’ve come to realize, I’ve never been that great at figuring out how to have fun.

There are many times when I do things because they seem fun.  However, “having” fun on a consistent basis has been a much different story.  In other words, I’m bad at playing. 

As a child, I had no problem with this.  I could “go outside and play.”  I loved to swim and jump on trampolines in the summer with my cousins, I awaited with bated breath the beginning of camp each June and July, I loved to attend sleepovers, I loved playing soccer and basketball.  

Somewhere between junior high sleepovers and my 30-something self, something changed.
As a young adult, I became zealous and excited about being a Christian and about being in ministry.  While that is something I would never change, I think that I became so serious about the spiritual life that I forgot that play is integral to understanding who I am as a daughter of God.  

I forgot that God created me to enjoy Him and His creation.  I forgot that who I am (complete with my weird interests, desires, and penchant for enjoyment) is important to God and to the folks around me.  I forgot that loving other people and enjoying what God has created go hand in hand.  I forgot that seeking joy often means being willing and able to enjoy the life around me.  

I have, in the past, struggled here and there with depression and anxiety.  In my quest to fix what was wrong, I’ve taken the approach that I must be serious about figuring out my quirks.  I’ve wondered so much about what is the exact right or wrong thing to do or way to be.  I’ve been surrounded, for the past several years (very intentionally), by folks with serious things going on, and I've been fortunate to share those stories and the gravity those stories have carried.

In the past several months, I’ve been thinking about what it means to play.  I’ve realized that I don’t do this well, out of fear that I’ll become self-absorbed (which is a form of self-absorption itself, I suppose).  All of these thoughts have led me to an important practice: having fun.  I’ve started contradancing, hiking, walking in the evenings, enjoying more time with friends, among other things.  For me, I’ve realized that play is very closely linked to being active, so I’m gearing myself more towards those activities.  

I’ve come to see the art of play as a spiritual practice.  For me, being intentional about play has helped me to engage in life and to gain a deeper understanding about those things that bring me joy.  With that, I’ve learned more about how I’m wired.

Being willing to play has reminded me that in the midst of difficult life situations and circumstances and hurtful people that there is always joy to be found.

Being willing to play has reminded me of the many gifts that God has given.  It’s helped me to think about what it means to truly enjoy God, instead of striving for perfection all the time
Being willing to play has taken me away from myself and the problems that I so often focus on.

Being willing to play has helped me cultivate both joy and peace.

Being willing to play has encouraged me to remember that life is so much deeper and so much simpler than I want to make it.

Being willing to play has forced me out of the prison of my own self-analyzing tendencies.  

Being willing to play has given me perspective.

Being willing to play has been a great avenue for ministry and for inviting others into Kingdom life.  

Being willing to play has enabled me to see things with a clearer mind.

I realize that the “discipline of play” very well may sound like an oxymoron.  However, it’s been a needed thing for me.  Whether it’s through the avenue of being creative, writing, taking my dog for a walk, or doing a really weird form of folk dancing that most people have never heard of, this revelation has been life-giving for me.   

I think there’s a very real reason that most adults long for the lives that kids live.  They know how to play and find joy without distraction.  Ever seen a kid on a swing at a playground?  I’m not sure that there’s a freer or more joyful expression on a person’s face.  Life can be difficult and there are things that as adults, we must focus on.  But I also think there’s something about living a life of disciplined joy that we often miss.