I will admit that I’ve had to learn to play. I was a serious child and teenager. As a college student folks would tell me that I had an “old soul.” I will give much of the credit for my transformation into a more playful self to my spouse Shannon, who helped me learn to relax, to laugh, and to be more spontaneous. I will give credit to my children who have allowed me to be silly and remind me when I am taking myself too seriously.
“We were created to have a sense of play imprinted on our souls . . . [b]ut somewhere along the path, our native sense of play and story gives way to an overlay of words and work.”
Leonard Sweet in The Well Played Life: Why pleasing God doesn’t have to be such hard work, 93.
Until I read Sweet’s book I did not think about the possibility that a sense of play has been “imprinted on our souls.” That somehow play and playfulness is part of God’s image and of the dynamics of God’s communal nature. This might explain the walks in the garden, pillars of cloud and fire, and the constant reminders of peace.
It is risky to play. We’ve been accustomed to production, to always being on the go. Playing puts at risk productivity which in turn puts at risk our sense of worth to the world and even to God. Yet it is play that opens up our imagination allowing us to see possibility and gives us the opportunity to try new things.
In trying new things through play we learn to deal with failure and disappointment. We learn to persevere! Like the toddler learning to walk or the teenager learning to drive it takes time and failure to accomplish great things.
The “novice player,” as Sweet calls ages 0-30, is ready to learn. This hunger gives us the opportunity to help young people learn to live a playful life and a prayerful life. We do this by modeling the joy of discipleship. Playfulness is contagious so as we tell the stories of faith in word, song, and gesture we pass on the meaning of a well played life to a new generation. Prayerfulness is taught by living a prayerful life with its rhythms of talking and listening, always with the goal of seeking God’s will.
Finally as people grow from learning to play to learning to pray they set the tone for seeing life as pilgrimage. Seeing life as pilgrimage recognizes that in the everyday of life there are markers that help us see and experience God. Pilgrimage requires letting go and being fully present at each step of the journey. Pilgrimage recognizes that no matter how many times we get lost our destination is secured in our home in God.
Play, prayer, and pilgrimage all help us see our lives as part of the tapestry called faith. In this tapestry we are able to be rooted in story and play not in words and work. A well played life indeed!