Do Yourself a World of Good

Friends, it’s summer time which has me thinking about vacation. More specifically, about play. Here are five tell-tale signs that you need to play more:

  1. You can’t easily laugh at yourself or your circumstances.
  2. You find yourself defensive or easily offended.
  3. You have a difficult time admitting you are wrong or asking for help.
  4. You rarely give others positive feedback or show appreciation.
  5. You’re easily frustrated or discouraged.

Do any of these strike a chord? Then, seriously, you may need to play more. Or even learn to play. To play is to engage in activity that serves no discernible purpose. It is to experience and enjoy something (someone) for its own sake rather than for a utilitarian purpose or accomplish a goal.

The capacity for play is built into creation itself. Observe your dog or cat. Visit the otter exhibit at the aquarium. Watch a few episodes of Wild Planet. Consider the lilies of the field – dancing in the breeze. Isaiah describes mountains bursting into song and the leaves of the trees clapping their hands!

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. It is important to healthy brain development. Play allows children to create a world they can master. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. Play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, and to resolve conflicts.

The developmental necessity of play is well-documented and it’s not just for kids. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, who founded the Institute of Play, has observed that adults deprived of play are more rigid, more depressed and, when faced with a novel or challenging situation, don’t have the repertoire of choice in responding as broad as their intelligence would indicate. At any and every age, he maintains, “play shapes the brain, opens our imagination, and invigorates our souls.”

In German theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s, “The Theology of Play,” he notes that play is a way to construct “counter-environments” that give people the freedom to imagine new futures – it is a way of practicing the resurrection life made real in Jesus Christ. Play foreshadows the joy of the eschaton where all manner of drudgery and disease, decay and death will be left behind. Play is a celebration of life lived to its fullest. In play, we emulate God’s own playful creativity. Play relativizes our over-seriousness toward life, filling us with a spirit of joy and delight. According to Moltmann, play is nothing short of a foreshadowing of the Kingdom of Heaven based on our trust in the risen Christ.

Now, go back to the five signs you may need more play. Aren’t you curious to give it a try? It could do you a world of good! And you may be doing the world, a world of good!

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