A Theology of Play

“We think your husband has tuberculosis. We’re moving you to the isolation ward.” Suddenly I was handed a mask to wear, and slippers to place over my shoes and he was being whisked away to a new room in a Beijing hospital. The last thing in the world I would’ve imagined coming next was laughter.

Silly me. I forgot to put Amy Young into the equation.

My friend Amy came to visit us in the hospital just at that moment. What could’ve been one of the scariest moments of my life became moments filled with tear-filled giggling as Amy immediately held my hand and then proceeded to make me laugh. Soon after, two more dear friends joined the room, Patty Stallings and Anne Packevicz, and what could’ve been a nightmare became a sunny room filled with hootin’ and hollerin’.

There is healing power in laughter. I’m pretty sure I’ve got science backing me up on that one, but either way, I know it’s true from experience. It restores something that has slowly leaked away from our bodies, minds, and souls.

We need to laugh more. We need to dust off the word “play” that has somehow been relegated to kindergarten kids and parks with swing sets.

Why do we need to play more? What’s the point? Don’t we have better, more serious, more important things to do?

1. Playing lifts our souls and allows us to be who our Father wired us to be. Did He make you a person who loves to create in the kitchen? Use those gifts and play in the kitchen. Did He wire you to be a person who makes beauty out of a blank canvas? Grab those paintbrushes and play. I believe firmly that our God delights when we use the gifts He gave us. He is the giver of all good gifts, after all, and when you give a gift, don’t you love it when you see the receiver ENJOYING the gift?

2. Playing helps us take ourselves less seriously and stop being controlled by the clock.  So much of our life is controlled by the relentless march of time. Playing reminds us that world will keep spinning without us, that there is light and life and goodness to be enjoyed around us, and that life is more than our to-do list.

3. Playing also builds community...

There’s that old saying, “The team that plays together, stays together.”  Over all the years I’ve served in Asia, I have seen this again and again. When teams have fun together, they begin to understand each other better, appreciate each other more, and love naturally starts to grow.  You build memories that become stones of remembrance that you return to again and again. You get to see how your teammate lights up when she bowls a strike, or how creative another teammate is when you have a cooking competition. And as a family? Whew. There is something that happens when you laugh and play together that wipes tensions away and binds you together in rock-solid unity.

4. …and that community is a light that draws others. When we make playing together a priority, it is amazing what follows. Not only do we learn to love each other more, but the world around us sees that love.  They want to be part of a group that loves each other like that.

5. Playing and laughter reminds us of the end of the Story. Life is hard, and we are so often heavy-laden with the burdens of this world. Laughter and playing remind us of the ultimate end of the Story: the good guys win and there will be no more tears. The end of all of our stories will be forever JOY. Let your heart be lifted today, and remember that heaven is coming.

How do we do it? What does playing look like in our context?

1. Be creative! Remember that fun is not determined by context. One of our teammates is an avid fisherman who used to think that he had to give it up when he moved to China. But, he decided to search and search until he found fishing holes even in our huge urban setting. Eventually our entire team of 14 went fishing one beautiful afternoon. It was glorious (and I don’t even like to fish!).  You will be amazed at the creative ways to find fun, no matter what your setting is. Think outside the box – there is fun to be had everywhere. Have a costume party, go bowling, do a cooking competition, eat dinner in reverse (dessert first), host a pancake party or a game night. Our team recently had an epic lip sync battle. Classic. And unforgettable.

2. Enjoy playing as a family. My family growing up always put a high priority on laughter and fun, so I grew up with it in my DNA. Just as play builds community with your team, so it does within your own family. Play board games, go hiking, play wiffle ball, do costume parties, host dance parties, go on picnics, play Ultimate Frisbee, go on a crazy scavenger hunt. Sometimes during dinner each member of our family gets assigned a different accent to use for the duration of the meal. We laugh our heads off.

3. Make playing a priority in your life. It is so easy to be busy with so many things and miss this sweet, life-giving gift that can be a balm to your soul. Hear me clearly: I don’t mean that you should throw all your work out the window and just sit around and play all day. But, guard your heart and your calendar so that work and busyness don’t so consume you that you lose the opportunity to truly stop and smell the roses, to delight in the ways the Father has wired you, and to simply BE with those around you.

I hope today that laughter can find its way to your lungs, no matter where you are or in whatever circumstances you find yourself. I hope that you can play without looking at the clock. Let the delight of our gift-giving, life-breathing Father fill your heart.  Skip, dance, play baseball, fish, take pictures, play Uno, or create a concoction of chocolate goodness in the kitchen. Play today. And feel the smile of your Creator.

How do you like to play? What have you found in your context to foster play? How has God surprised you with what’s available to you? 


  1. Ashley Felder June 22, 2015

    I would love to be a fly on the wall during “family accent night!” 🙂 Our team just had our annual de-briefing meeting. What could have been long, tedious, and boring, turned into (well, still long–7 hours!) sweet moments of Truth and some serious laughter. We made a “quote of the day” list. Those 11 quotes will bring back some hilarious memories!

    1. Renee Aupperlee June 23, 2015

      So fun, Ashley.  I love that you guys made a quote list — what great memories.  Laughter is just so great for our souls!

  2. Clarissa June 22, 2015

    Renee I love reading this! And pretty much anything you write 🙂 I see your family living this out and really admire and respect you guys because of it. Thank you for sharing the reasons why and your family’s examples. I know I often prioritize work over play and get exhausted because of it. I’m trying to intentionally implement more rest/play into my days, this will be a big thing to think through this summer in preparation for next year. Thank you for writing this in this busy June season of packing!

    1. Renee Aupperlee June 23, 2015

      Clarissa, you are a person who does indeed know how to play and invite others into your joy.  Your laughter and smiles are precious gifts to everyone around you.  I will be lifting up your summer as well as your next semester — that you will find much to delight in and find time to implement rest and play into your days.


  3. Amy Young June 22, 2015

    You know I love to have a good time :)! And I have many happy/weird memories in that hospital. That day stands out for me too!!!

    1. Renee Aupperlee June 23, 2015

      Amy, your presence in the hospital gave that day an incredibly different flavor because you were there to bring laughter.  Thankful for you, sister.

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