Play: A Small Manifesto {The Grove: Play}

Play feels like coming untethered.

Imagine standing on a dock in a harbor holding a fistful of ropes in each hand. These are the ties that bind – your relationships, tasks, experiences, expectations and inhibitions. They have the capacity to alternately delight and discourage. They are the things that fill your mind and days. What are your ties?

You lean against the resistance finding your balance, pressure in your heels, keeping your responsibilities rolling in place with the rhythms of the water.

Release the tethers one by one until you’re standing empty-handed on the dock. They float safely, easily retrieved when the time comes. You’ve let them all go into a safe Harbor. Now what do you do?

Do you invite others into your space and throw a party?

Do you dive into the water?

Do you start a fire on the shore and strum your instrument?

Do you turn cartwheels or somersaults with the child nearest you?

Do you get lost in your imagination?

Do you cheer with abandon for the home team or the underdog? Do you join the team?

Do you talk without censoring?

Do you explore new corners of your city?

I wanted to do some action research on this theme in preparation to write this post, so I called my cousin to ask if we could come and swim in his pool for the afternoon. My habit when I take my kids to the public pool is to stand sentry between the splash pool and the big pool while they run back and forth. I’m making sure two heads stay above water, and that they don’t come untethered behaviorally. But on the hot afternoon at my cousin’s, I took the plunge from the diving board several times and surfaced to cheers from family members. It felt like coming untethered, and though it didn’t last long, it was enough to remind me to live open to moments to play.

You see, it’s possible to do something “fun” and fail to play. I do it all the time. I arrange a fun experience and then I stand back and watch, or I participate, but with one hand holding all of the tethers I won’t release. I keep tabs on the time to make sure that we play enough, but not too much, so that we can keep to the routines. And I haven’t reconciled that because I believe in the sanity of routines.

Play is a state, not an activity. Like worship, work, and relationship it requires presence. With presence a hospital becomes a comedy club, and a sidewalk becomes a studio. Without it, a beach vacation becomes a checked box on the annual to-do list.

Eric Liddell (of the 1981 film Chariots of Fire) was present to play. He delayed his departure to work in China so that he could compete in the 1924 Olympics. To explain the decision to his sister he famously said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, for China, but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Amy described it as cultivation, and this is spot on. It’s return, again and again to nurture something worth growing. In that spirit, here’s a small manifesto for cultivating play.

Play: A Small Manifesto

I am playful because I am human, and when I am playful, I am more human.

God made me for a purpose that I will work hard to discover and accomplish,

But He also made me to play, and when I play, I feel His pleasure.

When I feel His pleasure, I am open to connection with God, myself, and others so

I will trust enough to come untethered.

 What does play feel like to you? How do you play?

20 Comments

  1. Danielle Wheeler June 25, 2015

    Play – releasing the tethers into a safe Harbor.  This is such stunning imagery, Kim.  I’m gonna hold onto that picture.  I might be extra emotional right now, but picturing you diving in the pool, well, it made me tear up.  That untethered joy.

    I’ve been amazed at how the power of play is helping us through our transition.  (Moving day is tomorrow!!)  It hasn’t happened everyday, but I have been intentional about spending 10 minutes of “special play time” with each of my kids individually.  They get to choose the activity and I let them lead with their imagination.  (Every single time, my youngest is Batman and I’m Robin.)  I don’t give them any direction or even ask them any questions about how they’re doing (that’s for another time).  This is just play.

    It’s like a reset button for them.  It’s only 10 minutes, but it’s 10 minutes of time focused on only them, and in the midst of all the craziness, 10 minutes of playing with mom settles their little souls.

    1. Kimberly Todd June 25, 2015

      Whatever emotional state you’re in, thanks for being moved. =)

      I know what it costs you to give each child their ten minutes of presence during transition chaos. Props. May those minutes settle you, too. Merry moving day to you tomorrow, and prayers.

    2. Michele Womble June 26, 2015

      When we returned with our preschoolers after an extended time in the States, I made an effort to do this, to spend time focused on them, playing with them.  I’m glad I did it, and I think it was absolutely positive….at the same time, I’m sure that even as I was doing it I still was “playing” and failing to play.  “one hand on the tethers” – well said.  I still have one hand on the tethers today….

      1. Kimberly Todd June 26, 2015

        I think there’s much to be said for sacrificial play – play for the sake of another – even when we can’t get there ourselves. But what joy when we can. Thanks for your comment, Michele.

  2. Amy Young June 25, 2015

    You see, it’s possible to do something “fun” and fail to play. I do it all the time. I arrange a fun experience and then I stand back and watch, or I participate, but with one hand holding all of the tethers 

    That’s gold, right there, Kimberly. Pure, refined, gold.

    1. Kimberly Todd June 26, 2015

      Thanks, Amy!

    2. Kay Bruner June 26, 2015

      I do this, too.  I think it’s anxiety-related for me.  All those years of watching to make sure nobody’s going to die on my watch.

      1. Kimberly Todd June 26, 2015

        This made me laugh. Probably because there’s an anxiety link there for me, too. I’m just uncovering it, and not sure yet what to do with it.

        I’m planning to go see Inside Out next week.

      2. Michele Womble June 26, 2015

        Oh your words just connected with my heart!  “All those years of watching to make sure nobody’s going to die on my watch’…!!!   sometimes  certain “fun” events just aren’t fun for me, because if something happens I’ll feel responsible…like I have to make sure nothing happens that I could have prevented…

  3. Jason Todd June 25, 2015

    Well said sister. Play feels like summer break. Not having a curfew, schedule, or plan that must be obeyed. Allowing a day or a moment to just happen and not be orchestrated. Getting my church clothes dirty but making a memory. Thank you for the reminder.

    1. Kimberly Todd June 26, 2015

      Thanks brother! I love the memory over church clothes sentence.

  4. Heather June 26, 2015

    “You see, it’s possible to do something “fun” and fail to play. I do it all the time. I arrange a fun experience and then I stand back and watch, or I participate, but with one hand holding all of the tethers I won’t release”. – yes, a very profound realization! I do this all the time too. As a worker in Asia with four children still at home, I am constantly aware of their needs to feel “normal” with play and fellowship on a nearly daily basis though our atmosphere does not foster it. I am constantly manufacturing it. But I rarely get to engage on the heart level. This season I am feeling my almost desperate need to ‘play’ and untether from the ties that bind and gag. Thanks for bringing that unrealized need to the surface. Don’t know exactly how to get there but I will try! 

    1. Kimberly Todd June 26, 2015

      I don’t know how to get there either. I think awareness and openness are something. Thanks for sharing, Heather. I pray your season yields ease of play and connection.

  5. Julie June 26, 2015

    The other evening I let myself “play” for 3 hours or so, sanding and repainting chairs. It was amazing how restful that felt!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on play!

    1. Kimberly Todd June 26, 2015

      It is amazing how play and rest go together, isn’t it? Now I’m dreaming about sanding and repainting my coffee table. I’ve wanted to do that for nearly a year…

  6. Danielle Krouch June 26, 2015

    I loved this, Kimberly! I totally try to stay tethered and have an extremely hard time letting go. My husband is the playful one and all my kids know it. Ha! Even our neighbor kids know it, always asking when he’ll be home. I’m so thankful for him. Thank you for reminding me to release the tethers and to play.

    1. Kimberly Todd June 26, 2015

      Thanks, Danielle! It’s such a gift to have a good model in such close proximity. Here’s to playful partners.

    2. Elizabeth June 27, 2015

      Danielle — I totally get this. I often feel the same way about my husband! Just wanted you to know you’re not the only one!

  7. laura r January 1, 2016

    Coming back to this one as I work out my One Word for 2016.  I especially am blown away by the connection between releasing the tethers and playing.  You see, I was leaning toward ‘release’ for my word for the year but, upon reflection, ‘play’  or ‘celebrate’ became prompts for the year.

    So… I find myself at a point of making a decision and I appreciate this post- to see how connected those words are… For me, play will not come without release.  *deep breath*

    1. Kimberly Todd January 1, 2016

      Hi, Laura! I love that you circled back here. Thanks for leaving a trace, and for the reminder to breathe while adjusting to a new word. (I know that was for you, but I took it, too. =) May your word, whichever you chose, shape you this year, and may the practice lead to ease in the release and joy in the play.

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