Remember to play
There is something pretty magical about July nights in Iowa. The fireflies dance around our yard, the air is thick with humidity, and bugs are singing in the trees. This combination of sounds and sights send me immediately back to my childhood and our summer visits to my grandparents’ farm in Nebraska. I grew up in the dry plains of Colorado, and I remember stepping out of our car after a long drive and being enveloped not just by my grandparents’ hugs, but also by that humidity and the roar of the cicadas.
I loved those Nebraska summer trips, because my grandparents loved to play. Grandpa would take us on rides that pushed the limits of the old tractor’s speed. He’d hand churn ice cream while singing hilarious songs he’d make up, just for us. He’d take us down to the old playground and swing his long legs high on the swings. We’d bake all day with my grandma. And we played so many card games. My grandma was ruthless in those games, and we’d laugh so much.
Over time, I learned that their life wasn’t easy. They had to work hard to sustain a living on that land. They gave so much to their church and small-town community and they had more than their fair share of tragedies and life’s complications. But my grandparents knew how to play, to celebrate the goodness of the moment, and the people they loved. They had this ability to just set the hard stuff aside and enjoy life.
Play, I’m convinced, is a spiritual practice. It’s necessary for us in our lives of faith. Play – just doing stuff for the joy of it – demands we are fully present in the moment and rest in the goodness of God’s love for us, without having to prove anything or earn anything. We just get to be God’s beloved people and enjoy this life God has given to us.
In Psalm 104, the writer sings praise for God’s amazing creation and all that God has made – mountains and streams, donkeys and lions. And the psalm goes on: “and we praise you for the Leviathon, which you made to play with.” (Psalm 104:26) Some translations say, “which you made to frolic” or “which you made for the fun of it.” I picture God playing catch with a monstrous sea creature and taking such delight in it. Just think of the utter joy God must have had making the first platypus or aardvark.
We worship a God who not only takes sabbath rest after hard work but who loves to play. In these days, which are full of anxiety and uncertainty, where we diligently work for a better society, let’s also remember to play. God’s given us a beautiful world, after all. So enjoy these summer days, with some ice cream and silly songs, card games and maybe even an afternoon swinging. After all, like that Leviathon, God has made us for frolicking, too.