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?