Think back to your childhood and try to remember a moment of playful delight: a game you invented, a fort you constructed, a friend with whom you “goofed off”. When did you giggle until you could not stop? What made you want to dance or turn cartwheels (and when did you go ahead and do it)? What kind of play made you forget to eat lunch, because you were having too much fun to go inside?
Children play. All of them. Play is an innate, God-given inclination, which we can spot in the youngest of babes. From our earliest age, we play: we delight, savor, frolic, laugh, fool around, and romp for sheer silliness and bliss. Our imagination lets us create endless possibilities in the world around us. Toys are not required. An empty box often inspires more inviting possibilities than the toy it contained, for a simple box can become a train, a hovercraft or a castle. Blankets draped over furniture become forts, hideouts, and imaginary new worlds. True play does not depend on the world beyond us, but comes from the world within us.
Imagination and playtime and daydreaming are not just for kids. We hear now about how the most successful companies build play time and play spaces into their offices and schedules: ping pong tables in the break-room; corporate zip-lining retreats. The reason for this shift is as fundamental as it is necessary: Often the best ideas come to us as we play with opportunities, when we collaborate on innovations, and when we think “outside the box” to create something new. Play renews us.
Play can revive every part of our selves and our lives: from our work life to our relationships, including our relationship with God. You are a beloved child of God, safe and free. Creativity—which we all have—is a way to tap into our intuitive, inner voice, and hear God anew.
Here are some suggestions to springboard your play. (And if the word “play” doesn’t work for you, find a synonym that fits: delight, enjoy, savor, relish, adore, revel in, recreate, love… )
Draw on your memory. Remember what you used to enjoy, what you found fun, what you did alone with perfect contentment, or the play you shared with a sibling or friend. How can you reclaim that fun, now?
Experiment. Give yourself permission to try something, with no judgment or evaluation. Keep perfection at bay and just “fool around” with something that intrigues you, and just for the fun of it.
Experience. Allow yourself simply to experience something delightful, freed from the need to make rational sense of it. Watch birds frolic in bathwater, dogs play with their toys, cats chase a ball of string, sunshine play on the rocks. Read fiction or watch movies to experience other worlds, for sheer enjoyment. The Russian ballerina Ivana Pavlova once was asked what a particular dance meant. She answered, “If I could have said it, do you think I would have danced it?”
If you need permission to play, just remember that Jesus invites us to be children of God: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Play your way back to the childlikeness of the Kingdom of Heaven.