Play’s the Thing: When Was The Last Time, You Made Room In Your Life For Play?


In the world of “grown-ups,” play can seem frivolous, immature, and a waste of time. Many may still hear echoes of dire warnings from childhood: “What will people think if they see you . . .” And yet, when you see children playing – soaring on a swing or gliding down a slide – don’t you long for those carefree days?
Life as a grownup can be overwhelming, particularly for clergy, who may be cast in the role of a super-hero.  Some may feel compelled do it ALL -- whether it takes 40, 60, or 80 hours a week -- never getting angry and never complaining, even when someone forgets to: lock the church door again, buy elements for communion, or report the water leak in the basement. It’s all just part of the job. Contending with overwhelming work and life demands can lead to burn-out or even breakdown.

Sue McGrath of Sacred Mountain Ministries will lead an optional workshop on 'Sacred Play' in Boise on March 18, during the gathering of the Orders of Elders and Deacons and Fellowship of Local Pastors. 

In Ecclesiastes 3:1, Solomon states that there is “a season for every activity under heaven.” He goes on to list several pairs of opposites—a time to be born and a time to die, a time for planting and a time for uprooting, a time for mourning and a time for dancing, and so on. There is an implied suggestion that balance is achieved through opposites, from which we can extrapolate that there is a time for sacred work and a time for sacred play.

Jesus urged his followers to become like little children in order to enter the reign of God.  What if he was referring to more than their natural faith, trust and innocence?  Perhaps Jesus was also commending their playfulness and exuberance for life.

So much gets in the way of play, not the least of which is the multi-tasking demanded by over-full schedules and overflowing to-do lists. Yet, in her book Holy Listening, Margaret Guenther offers this poignant commentary, “Our culture has made leisure an industry, but knows very little about play. Often what we call ‘play’ is competitive or compulsive, because the aesthetic dimension of true play, its holy uselessness, goes against our grain.”

What might “holy uselessness” look like?  When anyone takes the time to stop and play, awareness of God’s delight can be nurtured. Sacred play makes room for the discovery of God’s unconditional love, for all of God’s good creation.  Co-creative play liberates from the confines of perfectionism, from compulsion to achieve and acquire, and from anxieties about tomorrow.  Imaginative play is lived entirely in the moment.  Play allows each human being to become more fully who they are created and called to be.  Schiller, a German poet and philosopher once said, “The human being is completely human only at play.”

In his Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul, urges Jesus’ followers:  Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes. (Romans 12:2 The Passion Translation)

Nonetheless, it is easy to be conformed to a dominant culture that promotes the supreme values of productivity, usefulness and competence.  Concentrating on “productive” work makes it easier to push aside self-doubts.  But, this attitude contradicts the essential Christian wisdom that works righteousness is not the kind of relationship God desires from us.

In this time of changing seasons in our world and in our church, consider this concept of sacred play. Free yourself from the attitudes and limitations that prevent you from engaging in the gift of play.  Imagine ways to incorporate play into your life on a regular basis, not just when you are on vacation. Allow sacred play to bring balance to the life and work God has entrusted to your care. May it be so.