As I listened to a podcast the person being interviewed was talking about what she refers to as wholehearted people- those who live the most fully present and experience the most joy. Based on years of research and interviews she described play as a key component in the lives of people who live wholeheartedly. Then she took it a step further, defining play as something one does without purpose to it.

I think i actually stopped breathing while I thought about that statement. I am the queen of purpose and intentionality. If living purposeful was an Olympic sport I would have a gold medal.  I ALWAYS have a purpose. I workout to be in shape. I read to learn more. I intentionally ask deep questions when I’m around others to have meaningful conversation. Everything I do has a purpose. Even when I sit on the floor intending to play with my kids I have carved that out in my mind as purposeful time to connect with them.

Over the next few days I couldn’t stop pondering what it looks and feels like to play- or to be present without purpose. Then I got a real life lesson illustrating the extent to which I am not good at play.

My husband and I were celebrating our 10 year anniversary. His mom had the kids for the weekend while we enjoyed a staycation. We were barely even 24 hours into our kid-free time and I started feeling restless. I’m used to waking up and having constant demands to take care of- diapers to change, breakfast to get, school clothes to set out and so on. It was a foreign feeling to have no agenda other than enjoy ourselves for the day. The restless feeling quickly turned into a need to be productive- to accomplish something- to have purpose. I started moving around our house looking for purpose and landed with some cleaning. I took the slip cover off the couch and put it in the wash. Then I announced that I was going to take the curtains down and wash them also. (Doesn’t everyone wash their curtains on their 10 year anniversary?). My husband, realizing that this wasn’t normal, healthy behavior pushed back and said “No”. To which I pushed even harder and essentially said that he couldn’t stop me. Things spun out of control and we literally ended up arguing over whether or  not I was going to wash the curtains. After a while of arguing and saying mean things it became clear that I had been a little (or a lot) ridiculous.

My husband has pushed back with good intentions- he wanted to see me relax and enjoy our weekend. Why had I resisted this so much?

Then I remembered the play podcast from a few days earlier. This was all one giant illustration of my inability to play- to just be- with no specific purpose.

Upon discussing these ideas with my husband, Jeremy, he suggested that play is not an activity, but a heart posture. Everything in my soul and spirit testified to that statement. I knew instantly that play is not about what we do, it is deeper than that. Just like you can go on vacation but never really rest, you can do an activity without ever entering the heart posture of play- you can go through the motions of activity without engaging the fruit of joy, lightheartedness and truly being in the moment.

The more I spent time thinking about the idea of play the more memories and moments God brought to my mind, teaching me lessons through each one.

I thought back to a recent breakfast with a friend. When we sat down she said that she knew I was always a woman with a plan and therefore asked me what I wanted to talk about. At the time I took it as a compliment (and I’m sure that’s how she meant it), but in hindsight I am less proud of the fact that I am known as the person who always has a plan and agenda. Don’t get me wrong- this is definitely a strength of mine, but as with any other strength, taken too far it is also a huge weakness. I realized thinking back that I had indeed shown up with a plan for that breakfast, and had several topics I had wanted to talk about. I realized that I never show up to anything without some sort of vision for what that time will look like. I realized that I needed to find some sort of balance between being intentional and being present, allowing things to unfold. I realized that a component of play is often spontaneity and that I was living my life without much room for anything spontaneous.

Then I thought back to an old hashtag I used to use; #workbeforeplay. I thought about how whenever my husband saw that hashtag all he saw was foreplay since he doesn’t view life through the same worker bee mentality that I do. Work before play has been my mantra. Get all of the necessary and “important” stuff done first, play later. Do you know the problem with that??? In our busy culture there will never be an absence of necessary and important stuff to get done, so if we wait until all the work is done we will find oursevles never taking the time to play. This showed me the misconceptions I had previously had regarding play. I had thought that play was a luxury, a waste of time, frivolous, irresponsible, unimportant and something that only lazy people did. All of this gave me a whole new appreciation for play, and for people who play.

I was reminded of an instagram story I had seen a few weeks prior. It was one of my friends and her kiddos all in the jammies and having a dance party. I had watched that video over and over at the time, unsure of why I was so drawn to it but knowing there was a deep lesson to be had. In hindsight, I realized it was play. I had seen actual play in action and had been perplexed and captivated by it. I wanted to experience this kind of fun and freedom.

Thinking back further, I was reminded about how this summer my husband had mentioned he was looking forward to spending time with “vacation Shannon” on our trip to the beach. At first I was perplexed by this but upon discussing it I came to understand that on vacation I tend to be way more laid back and go with the flow. I don’t have piles of laundry, dishes or tasks around the house to get done and I am able to live much more present and spontaneous with the people around me. I started wondering how I could invite this “vacation Shannon” into more moments of my daily life, setting aside the to do list and embracing play.

I decided I was going to start playing. One day at the park with my family I swung, climbed a tree and did the seesaw. I proudly proclaimed all of my actions to my hubby and asked him if that was play. To which he said if you need to have an agenda to do it then it probably isn’t play. Oops! This made me start thinking of play as something that’s usually spontaneous, a choice you make in the moment, something that can only exist when you have margin in your life to engage it.

One day in further attempt to play I was swinging. I realized the more I swang the more lighthearted and present I felt and the more my worries seemed to melt away. It was as if worry and play can’t co-exist, as if play is the antithesis to worry, fear and other things that Jesus often spoke boldly against. This struck me as a reason for why Jesus encouraged His listeners to be like the children and have childlike faith. I thought about the saying that laughter is the best medicine and how maybe it would be good for not only our souls but our bodies if we all laughed and played a little more. I’ve noticed that laughter is often a signal for play and so now when I hear laughter I start noticing what is going on around me.

Years ago I used to view God as stiff and sterile but in recent years I have come to know Him in different ways. I’ve started to enjoy Him. To realize that He is fun and that He is the source of all joy. That He invented play. That His fingerprints are all over play. That play can be worship. That He likes play. That He meets us in play. I’m starting to think of play as a spiritual discipline, or as a way to connect with, enjoy and relate with God.

One last lesson that stood out to me was in thinking back to a playdate with a few weeks prior. I had spent over an hour at a park with a friend and her kids. I remember noticing that her kids didn’t seem to know how to play. They didn’t run, climb the equipment or dig in the dirt. They mostly sat at her feet asking to go home. I had been so struck that day that I came home and mentioned to Jeremy how I had thought that all kids inherently knew how to play but that it had seemed that these kids hadn’t. Maybe it was something they had never learned- a lifestyle that had never been modeled for them. I wondered if I was a 36 year old version of those kids. I had always assumed that play was something that children just naturally knew how to do, but I was starting to wonder if it was more of a lifestyle that is cultivated. I realized that the more I engaged in play, the more opportunities for play I noticed as I went about my day. Then the more moments in which I seized the opportunity, the more likely I was to do it the next time. I realized that I was on the beginning of a journey into a lifestyle of play. This is what I will continue to dive into moving into 2018.

My intention is to PLAY; to slow down, live more spontaneously, more present, enjoying and celebrating the people around me.