A Time to Play

Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

In this season where so many of us are working from home, I wonder if I am the only one who needs help staying disciplined, focused on a single task, and actually, you know, work! For most of my career, my home space was the place I came to relax, kick off my shoes, call a friend, put on a movie, order a pizza, reflect on the day, take a walk, or play a game.

Yet for the past 2 years it has also become my place of work and after all this time, I am still struggling with how to prioritize my need for down town and my need to stay focused to accomplish my work tasks throughout the day. On many days it seems that I watch the minutes slip through the hourglass of the day at such a rapid speed that I find the sun is already setting before I have gotten into that sweet zone of productivity.

I began to analyze reasons for why it took me so long to get “settled into the saddle” so to speak, and I realized that I was often avoiding my work tasks for one of three reasons:

  1. I felt overwhelmed with how many tasks there were
  2. I wasn’t sure which tasks should be tackled first
  3. I wasn’t sure where to begin with complex or multi-layered tasks.

Looking at my list, I realized that my fear of making a wrong move in the project had paralyzed me into procrastination and unproductively. I wasn’t moving ahead on these tasks, because I wasn’t sure of the “right” way to go. This predicament can happen in a lot of different forms – whether it it’s wondering which might be the “right” jobs to apply for, or how to take the first baby steps toward a new hobby, or maybe it’s as daily as choosing how to exercise or what to wear for the day. We all face moments of paralysis in which we are not sure how to move forward.

I began to pray and ask God for wisdom about how I could conquer my fear of getting things “wrong” and become more engaged with my work and my writing on a daily basis. The answer that came to mind was unexpected – “Try playing.” I had expected a serious pull-up-your-bootstraps-and-get-down-to-business kind of answer, but what I heard in my spirit was something more along the lines of a Mary Poppins song. In fact, one line Mary Poppins sings in that golden Disney classic stood out in my memory.

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and *snap* the job’s a game!”

Photo by Antonio Gabola on Unsplash

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and *snap* the job’s a game!

Mary Poppins

As Mary Poppin’s song points out work and play often go together, in fact they complement each other. Play times are not just for kids. We need play just as much as kids – and not just for relaxing. Play, understood rightly, is not just a break from work, but an entryway into both deeply creative and fruitful work. When we approach work from a mindset of play, we can conquer the paralyzing fears that tell us we better not begin or we will get it all “wrong” or be disappointed with our results. There are no strict rules to follow when you are “just playing”.

In every season in our life, but especially times when we need be highly productive or creative we all need times when we are free to just play with the overused tools that make up our work or profession and just see what happens. When I was a graduate student working on my PhD, I would invite my fellow graduate students (who often had crazier schedules than I did) to come over for a “Pancake and Poetry” Saturday brunch. Many who came were international students who were unfamiliar with pancakes or much of English poetry. Their experience of learning English had been mostly oriented toward taking a test and poetry wasn’t needed for that.

On these Saturday gatherings, we all took a break from using words in serious academic sentences and we took time to listen to one another read aloud word play from poetry books and feasted on crazy pancake concoctions where there were no rules about how NOT to make a pancake. Some pancakes were made with peanut butter others filled with chocolate chips, others with banana and marshmallows on top. These sessions were always therapeutic for all of us graduate students who needed permission to just be kids again and “play” with language and pancakes instead of measuring every word for its clarity and correctness.

As I think back on those times, I realize it may not be such an odd thing afterall for God to nudge us into taking time to “play”, since it was Jesus who said, “Truly, I say unto you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

“Truly, I say unto you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:3

If you are facing one of those paralyzing giants in your life and you are not sure how to take the next “right” step, start by taking time to just play around with different options and see what happens. Play can engage your mind with the work itself rather than focusing on the voice of fear or failure telling you it is too risky to start. Instead play invites you into the doorway of work with a song and a whistle… and before you know it, “the job’s a game!”

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