Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist, clinical researcher and founder of The National Institute for Play argues that, “the opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression.”
Play is the gateway to vitality. By its nature it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.
We are more creative, expansive, joyful and satisfied in life when we cultivate play. To be real honest here, I think I have an easier time cultivating rest than cultivating play. I really like to accomplish tasks. I really like to see the results of my work. I’m always puttering at something, working on some project. Even when it comes to hobbies I really enjoy; I am very task oriented. I don’t share this for your sympathy, but I share it empathetically, perhaps you have a similar struggle. My three-year-old daughter lives and breathes play, just as she should. She always has a running storyline of make-believe, ever eager for us to join her in her imaginative world. I remember that kind of play from when I was a kid. All consuming, I entered fully into the world of my own imagination. Still free from the allure of productivity and self-consciousness, I did not hesitate or feel guilty for daydreaming or spending the day hard at play.
When was the last time you allowed yourself to be consumed by play? I hope you are better at it than me. Video games? Playing a sport? Living up a snow day? Getting lost in a joy-giving TV show?
In a Podcast I listened to recently Brene Brown talked about rest and play that create joy and fill us up as opposed to the things that masquerade as rest and play but are actually numbing, disconnecting us from ourselves. Watching a really good movie that makes us laugh, feel joy and delight, verses spending the whole day watching Netflix and feeling like crap afterwards. (No offense to Netflix) That which cultivates connection verses disconnection. Connection with ourselves, with our families, with friends, and community. Play looks different in all stages of life. I doubt I will ever experience the freedom of uninterrupted imaginative play again, but I get to join Elli every now and then. As an adult, my play looks different but it can still fill me with delight and goodness. At least, that is my goal this week.
Rest and play are a part of a wholehearted, full-hearted, faith-full life. Rest and play are a spiritual practice. And they may take practice. Play may feel awkward at first. You might have to wrestle with that “good work ethic” inside you before you can relax into play. When we delight in the wonder of the world and embrace the playful creative inside us all, we reflect and connect with the playful creative of God. The Beloved delights in us just as we are. We are not more beloved because we work harder. We are not created better if we are more productive or accomplish more tasks. We, you, are created in the divine image of God, named beloved, whole and holy, just as you are.
Now, go outside and play.
That's it, that's your prompt this week. Go play. Whatever that looks like to you.