The Gift of Play

football outside

Today I’ve been reading about the gift of play, particularly as it relates to spiritual formation. There are the practices of Sabbath, prayer, work, exercise, study, meditation . . . and play.

It seems quite the odd concept to read about in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. In this time, play may seem, at best, something we should merely hope for in the future and, at worst, something we end up despising in the midst of carrying so much added responsibility.

I can pray and work. But play?

Let me put a quote here from author and pastor Ken Shigematsu. It comes from his book God In My Everything:

Adults are so busy, so preoccupied with our agendas and tasks that we fail to enjoy the beauty right in front of our eyes, Children don’t need someone to tell them to enjoy life. They are naturally curious. They find what they like and they do it. But as we grow older, most of us begin to feel the pressure to be “productive.” We feel guilty when we take time to enjoy something or stop to play. Most adults don’t even know what it means to play. (p140)

We are already people who struggle with this life-practice: to play. As John Ortberg describes us in his work: “For we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”


That’s our starting point. Not play, but rather work, productivity, responsibility, and duty.

Listen, those aren’t bad things . . . necessarily. But if we are driven primarily by such, it will become our downfall. At least that is my story. I am a man that can pride himself on his aptitude for responsibility and, many times, it has ravaged my heart.

I live by the duty of my spiritual life, family life, and work life. Day in and day out. Non-stop. Knowing this, in my own personal spiritual formation, I have begun implementing the element of play.

You see, if this was difficult in normal times, how much more in this most unprecedented of times as the Coronavirus? Many of us are confined within our homes non-stop (which is a good thing in this time, as the stats show it is working in pulling the bell curve down). Yet, with even our work (if we have work) being within the confines of our home can cause our capacity for play to dip even further. We are all sleeping, eating, conversing, and relaxing in the same exact space that we now work in. Eek!

And that’s why play becomes a spiritual discipline. Again, if such was true a month ago, it most certainly is now.

God is a God who plays. At least that is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whom I am coming to know (notice I said “I am coming to know,” as I am not really there yet). And if God has asked that we pray and work and fast and meditate, he surely has asked us to play just as much.

I understand the tension right now. I have been clear about the reality of lamenting in my own writing these past few weeks. I have personally lamented, I have felt the tears welling up, I have been confused, I have been anxious, I have been angry. And, to combat that, it will take the spiritual practices of mindfulness, listening, breathing, meditation, and prayer.

It will. I have also written about this.

Yet one significant way to combat the anxiety, anger, and rage, I believe, is through play.

“There is a time to laugh,” as one wise sage once said. Even this evening.

What might play look like in this time?

A board game with our family, a rerun of the Three Stooges or America’s Funniest Videos, opening a joke book with your kids. The options are fairly limitless.

Another important way to play is that we get out in creation. Have you ever noticed that the word recreation is re-creation? At times, our recreation needs to be in creation. We need to be out there re-creating.

That could entail going for a bike ride, kicking the soccer ball, throwing the frisbee, doing some gardening, taking a walk in the park, setting up a picnic. Again, fairly limitless—even in these times. And I think we are aware of the spiritual, emotional, and physical refreshment such will bring to us. How much more if we look to engage in the practice of play (even more, in creation) each and every day?

But whatever you do, play and recreate as God intended for his image-bearers. Get out there, breathe in the fresh air, laugh and dance. I believe such will form us in a way we, at first, did not realize.

The photo above is from Robert Collins – Football outside Jakarta.


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