November 10, 2006

The Playfulness of God

2006 1531 page6 capy nephew, Joshua, was perplexed. There was something about his uncle Roy, my husband, that he just didn’t understand. So he went to his mother.
“Mom,” he asked, wearing a serious expression on his face. “Is Uncle Roy a kid?”
His mother, Kim, laughed. “No, Joshua, Uncle Roy is an adult.”
Joshua pondered her answer for a moment, and then replied in the same serious tone, “Uh-uh. He’s a kid.” And he ran back to play with his kid uncle.
Roy has the gift of play. Roy plays with abandon. He can wear out a group of kids long before they wear him out! If you are in the vicinity of our house and hear shrieks of laughter and shouts of triumph, chances are that Roy is outside playing with nieces, nephews, church kids—whoever will play with abandon along with him.
Pablo Picasso commented, “It takes a long time to become young.” I would add: unfortunately, it takes some of us longer than others to arrive—if we arrive at all.
Jesus said in Matthew 19:14—as well as in two other Gospels—these words: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
2006 1531 page6I think most of us would agree that Jesus is placing a high value on children—and childlikeness. We often speak of the attributes of children that we should emulate: trust, humility, transparency. But we don’t often talk about the aspect of the kingdom “belonging to such as these.” Belonging connotes ownership. Jesus is stating that children own the kingdom. Why? Is it that they reached out their hands, and said “gimme, gimme, gimme”? Of course not. I believe that they own the kingdom because they understand how to receive. They receive without trying to pay God back for the gift. Is it possible that in our grown-up seriousness of “finishing the work” we have lost this most important childlike expression of trust in God? To play with abandon takes, among other things, a willingness to leave the control of the universe to God!
I know that I haven’t learned this lesson as well as I should. There’s always some work that needs to be done. I do miss working as a local church pastor and being paid to play! Between Adventurer Club campfires, Vacation Bible School, and children’s church, I had many opportunities to play. But I don’t always take the time otherwise to have fun with no agenda in place. And I think of this in relation to our church as a whole. I can’t help believing that we have also fallen into this trap of thinking that the running of the universe and the plan of salvation depend on how much work we do. That somehow the plans of God will not go forward unless we are in control.
Play is not the opposite of work, as we often believe. Actually, I think God enjoys watching us play with abandonment and trust in Him as much as He does watching us work. Think about your children.
I don’t know many parents, if any, who cannot sit for hours and just watch their children play. There is a satisfaction in observing those we love leave off the cares and worries of this world long enough to enjoy merely being, rather than doing.
Indeed, work is important. We must work for our temporal needs of food, clothes, lodging, etc. And we must work for the salvation of souls. Scripture tells us that work is a blessing from God. But work and play are both blessings from God. And both are beneficial. Play can teach us not only trust in God but in others, respect for others, sharing, and other life lessons. Some say that play is a basic need just like water, air, sunshine, and the food groups.
I believe that one of the lessons that I am to learn from my husband in this life is the ability to play with abandon. I’m still in class. But I hope to become younger and younger as each year passes.
Bonita Joyner Shields is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review.