Summer beckons with the lawn hose, water balloons, and water guns at our house of six boys. It beckons with roasted marshmallows, with bike rides, and backyard baseball. But for me it beckons with the thought of getting some uninterrupted work time, with making a dent in my endless to-do list, with the “joys” of getting the garage organized. (We sure do get boring as we get old!) And in the midst of all my to-do, a little voice calls, “Play with me, Mama!”
How God Calls to Us through Our Children
I’ve come to realize that there is a direct correlation between my spiritual health and my ability to play.
Let me explain. When my mind is plagued with worry about the future, or believing the lie that everything depends on my hard work, or when I’m enslaved to some idol of model-home perfection, my name in lights, or coveting the vacation, house, or lifestyle of someone else, that’s when I just can’t stop what I’m doing long enough to enjoy the act of connecting spontaneously and playfully with my children or even with other adults. And it’s a big red flag.
Play — whether it’s a moment of peak-a-boo with your baby, pretending with your pre-schooler, sitting down to a board game with your pre-teen or teen, or even just taking an afternoon off to go swimming with friends — play requires us to let go of our to-do lists, our worries, and our striving. And perhaps this is one of the reasons God gifts the world with children. They invite us to be present, imaginative, and playful. And guess what? That might be just what we so desperately need.
The Overworked Conundrum
Americans are chronically over-worked and over-tired. I won’t bore (or depress) you with the statistics. We know intuitively that in the average American household kids are growing up with parents who are chronically overworked and habitually distracted. Ironically, this stress leads to lower quality of life, more mental and physical health problems, and less time to enjoy the very things for which we are working. The point here isn’t to pile the mom and dad-guilt on our already over-taxed minds, but to pause for a moment and consider the invitation to joy that Jesus offers us through our children.
Play Reminds Us God Made Us for Enjoyment
While God certainly made us for meaningful work, He also made us to enjoy Him. He placed Adam and Eve into a Garden of delight to the senses. He gave them each other for their enjoyment. And He called all of it good. Children anchor us to these basic gifts. Through them, we are invited to giggle again at the pleasure of digging our toes into the sand, the wonder of watching the praying mantis on the window, the taste of and feel of watermelon dripping down our chins on a hot day, or the smells of running through the grass in an afternoon rain-shower. They love our attention and crave our presence. And through this they remind us that God made us sensory beings in a world charged with wonder. He built us for deep relationship with Him and each other.
The Incarnation of Play
I was reading a Bible story to my three year-old son once when he interrupted me with, “Play with me, Mama!” It was the third time that day, he’d asked me (first while I was doing the dishes, next while folding laundry) and each time I’d pushed him off until later. But finally I realized it wasn’t my three year-old interrupting me, it was God interrupting me.
You see how could I expect this little one to even want to hear instruction, unless I’d first entered into his world? He wanted my presence amidst trains and construction trucks. He wanted me hiding in blanket forts, getting messy with finger-paints, and silly with tickle fights. He didn’t want a mom who cares for his needs and stands far off. He wanted someone to draw near. It’s funny but that’s what I want in my God too. I need a God who stoops low. I need a God-with-me. I need a God who crawls into the tight places of my tiny world and makes His home with me. And thankfully, the God of the incarnation is my God.
This incarnate God calls me to enter into the world of play with my children not only because it is good for me, but also because it is good for them.
In some sense the invitation to play is an invitation to repent of the idols of the over-worked and the over-worried and to allow God to be the one to care for our daily needs. It is an invitation to experience with all our senses this world of delight, made for enjoying God and each other. And finally, it is an invitation to incarnate to our children the God who stoops down low, who humbles himself to take on flesh and become one of us.
Written for Devotionals Daily by Catherine Claire Larson, author of Waiting in Wonder.
* * *
Are you overworked? Over-tired? Exhausted every day? Here’s another question: Are you playing regularly? Do you know how important it is to play? God created us not just for hard work (which is good), but also for enjoyment (which is also good)! He wants you to be able to say, “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it” — Psalm 118:24. ~ Devotionals Daily