The First Disruption
Years ago, my family and I were headed over to a friend’s house for dinner. As we pulled in, we found my buddy cutting his grass on a riding lawnmower. The scene would’ve been a normal one, except for one thing: the way my friend was cutting the grass. Instead of tidy rows, he was making big sweeping circles and swirls with his mower, cutting his front yard into a wild display.
I racked my brain to figure out what was going on. Had he drunk all his beers (and mine!) before our arrival? I couldn’t figure out what was behind this.
Furthermore, the “design” he was cutting in his front yard looked really cool. And his big grin made it even more perplexing.
He was an older man. A mentor. Part of me was embarrassed to even ask. Yet I’ve learned something in this decade of excavation: questions lead to treasures, and good risks are worth taking.
“What are you doing?” I asked with a bit of awkwardness.
He responded, with a big smile, “I’m playing.”
I was floored. Try as I might, I could not find a file inside of me for his response.
I simply had no category.
This man is a CEO of a big company. If I don’t have time to play, he surely doesn’t. I stood perplexed.
This was several years ago. And in that moment, Jesus was pulling yet another string to unravel me…
The Second Disruption
My wife is a Holy Yoga instructor and Prana Ambassador, so we have received their monthly clothing catalog for several years now. The pictures change, but the scenes are almost always the same, depicting men and women playing together. In the summer they are drawing pictures in the sand. In the winter they are throwing snowballs…
For years, my internal reaction to the men in these catalogs was the same:
“GET A JOB!”
Let’s be honest, who has time to draw pictures in the sand? I sure don’t. (Or better said, didn’t.)
Of course. “Problems in the world reveal problems in us,” a wise man (Craig) once said. My curt and pissed response to the pictures reveals some subterranean convictions I have that equate worth with productivity.
Deeper still, those catalogs are reminding us of something. Prana knows what they are doing when they stage those photo shoots; they use those images because they work to sell their clothing. What they have learned is that there is something very attractive to a woman about a man who is willing to play—or, better said, capable of playing.
And that man was not me. At least not back then.
The Third Disruption
It came while reading Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand’s remarkable survival story of Louis Zamperini, a WWII pilot shot down in the Pacific. He survived four months floating in a life raft, only to be captured by Japanese soldiers and tortured for years as a POW. In this harrowing story, Louis is finally set free, only to find that the prison he inhabits within his heart and mind has become more wretched than the cell bars ever were. At the end of his story, and in the twilight years of his life, he comes to know Jesus in a real and intimate way. And then in the book came the picture that disrupted me more than any other part of his story: Louis took up skateboarding as a hobby… at eighty-one.
The joy on his face was piercing. In spite of all the pain, all the loss, all the terror, Louis found a life in the heart of God that was so deep that he was able not only to live, but to play.
I’ve sat at the feet of some seventy-five men over the last seven years to discover the gold of what it looks like to live, really LIVE, in this decade of becoming good soil.
Through so many men’s stories one of the consistent themes is play.
“I wish I would’ve played more and found joy in all of it.”
“I wish I would’ve worried less and played with my kids more.”
“Joy could’ve been my accelerator. My fuel. There was so much joy for the taking and I missed it.”
Craig put words to one of the many paradoxes that this treasure hunt has unearthed:
“We play an irreplaceable role in the Larger Story. AND. Don’t take yourself too seriously!”
There is wisdom to be mined in the footprints on this ancient path, this tried and true road (Jeremiah 6).
Researcher Brené Brown also unearthed the centrality of play. After over a decade of research and interviews with thousands of people, she writes this:
“I learned…how things that I take for granted, like rest and play, are as vital to our health as nutrition and exercise.”
In her remarkable book on wholehearted living, The Gift of Imperfection, Brené cites Dr. Stuart Brown, a renowned researcher and founder of the National Institute of Play (now that’s a paradox—kinda sounds like the Vice President of Twinkies and candy bars at Weight Watchers): “Brown explains that play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation. In all of his research on play, one of the fundamental properties Brown determined is that it is “apparently purposeless.” Basically this means that we play for the sake of play. We do it because it’s fun and we want to.”
So I bought flip flops.
I had to start somewhere. For years, guys that wore flip flops always bugged me. You can’t do much of anything in flip flops. But that’s the point…
Father was after that mistaken conviction that my worth was equal to my productivity; He was excavating yet another layer of my life in which I was “hustling” for worthiness outside of His love.
It’s harder than it sounds. Exposing. Risky. As Brené Brown observes of our western culture,
“Spending time doing purposeless activities is rare. In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.”
But there is gold to be found if we would risk an expedition into unknown territory.
Our capacity to play, to laugh, to chillax and enjoy while being present is directly proportional to what we have come to believe about the heart of God.
As I’ve been trying it on for several years, and better still, beginning to believe in the centrality of play in God’s Story, I’m seeing it more and more.
Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. He writes in Ecclesiastes that there is a time for every activity under heaven and that God has made everything beautiful in His time (3:1,11). He goes on to say there is a time to laugh and cheer (3:4). Later he urges us, “On a good day, enjoy yourself” (7:14 MSG).
Solomon comes to a crescendo with this urging:
Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! (9:7-10 MSG)
What’s frontier for you in this?
For me it started with buying flip flops as an act of faith. And it has grown from there…
We recently took a family trip back East. As I was praying, asking God for advance words to orient my trip, He simply said, “play.” Coming off three intense months of back-to-back missions, I was nearly disoriented by the counsel. Yet it was exactly what I needed. And I would’ve missed it had I not asked and believed that play is central to our salvation.
…So it was a week of drawing sidewalk chalk, laughing hysterically on roller coasters, campfires, s’mores, fireworks, lightning bug catching, swimming, games, bike riding through puddles, ice cream getting muddy, and more laughing…
Play has opened up a new place in my heart, and through it a whole new slice of the Kingdom and God’s heart. Play is finding its way into the fabric of our family culture and into my daily life.
~ I’ve learned to laugh, more and more.
~ We pack a fart machine as an “essential item” when we travel.
~ A cornish hen baked inside the Thanksgiving turkey is a pregnant surprise to be pulled out for any young kids in the vicinity.
~ A buddy (who is way ahead of me in this) sent me “Joy Bomb” socks… ugly bright green socks with yellow bumble bee-looking-joy-bombs… for my personality, these were appalling. And yet, I find myself wearing them all the time… just to play, to seize joy. To laugh at myself more and to not take life so damn seriously.
~ We practice crazy made up dance moves while doing the dishes or jump on the trampoline most nights after dinner.
~ I seek out bike trails with wildly fun downhills that make me feel like a kid again.
~ I do a headstand on my birthday every year (after meeting an older man who showed me the way. He had a picture of himself doing a headstand on his 65th birthday—on a chair no less—displayed on his kitchen table).
~ My buddy and I dust off really bad rap songs from the ’80s and trade playlists.
More than anything, I’m learning how to play. How to relax, enjoy, and not take myself so seriously.
I’m recovering some lost aspect of the Gospel, at least lost to me.
Play is exposing in me the places that have yet to know a God that lavishes His love and affection upon me just as I am. To play is to respond to the Offer of God on one of the deepest levels.
As Norm Maclean puts it, “Agony and hilarity are necessary for salvation.”
What might it look like?
James Michener says it this way:
“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision… at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.”
You can hear the invitation in the words of Jesus to His close friends—some invitation to exhale, to rest, to live lightly, to receive grace, to play…
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Just maybe, through these pulses of play, we will all come to know that play was His idea and is beautifully, graciously, necessary for our salvation…
For more on play that I’ve found inviting…
–The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown – Guidepost #7 – Cultivating Play and Rest
–Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge – Chapter 3 – Is Jesus Really Playful?
-“Favor is an Asthmatic Riding Pacific Waves” by Dan Allender
-“End of Play” – Karla Adolphe – God used this song to meet me in my depths of needing play. It became a place of meeting with the Father and inviting God to take me into play. Check it out here.
-Finally, if you found this blog helpful in your walk with God, you might read Conservation of Energy next…