“Play is the work of a child.” So went the slogan at the preschool my older daughter attended one year. And so the school provided means of play for the students who were multi-sensory, literary, imaginative, and physically active. While the children played they actually were stretching and working all parts of their minds and bodies. It’s no wonder kids are so tired after a long day of play.
While it’s easy to recognize play as the work of young children, at some point that stops. Play and work separate. It happens about the time people are required to take on responsibility, because responsibility brings with it consequences. Where play is exploratory, responsibility is mandatory. Of course, this doesn’t mean responsible beings cease to play, it means our play, now called “recreation,” trends toward aimlessness. We work to achieve, to be productive, and we play in the times between productivity with little thought about the outcome.
There is a sense, though, in which play should be the work of adults, too. That is, we adults should work at our play. Yes, this sounds oppressive and a bit killjoyish, so let me explain: Play is a means of strengthening and bettering our work, not simply forgetting it and certainly not avoiding it. Every act of leisure, every recreating deed, every playful minute spent should serve to benefit the work we are called to do in life. This isn’t an unrestful burden, but it does help us focus and be intentional.
Runners should run to relieve stress, maintain physical health, and maybe enjoy the company of others. Readers should absorb new knowledge, exercise their discernment, live in a world of linguistic beauty, and have new ideas sparked. Those who play sports can experience both fitness and fellowship. Those who watch sports can share the enjoyment with others, and, if they’re a tad nerdy like me, can analyze the statistics and performances of the players involved. Movie viewers can engage worldviews, ethics, and more. And sometimes the body just needs rest to recharge, so relaxing in a hammock or taking a nap is just the thing.
As adults, we are called to work because we are created to work, but as fallen beings we break down and need a rest from that work, to be refueled and reenergized. And so we play. If we ever find ourselves being drained and debilitated mentally, physically, or spiritually by our play, it is a dangerous spot, because it is disinclining us to follow our call to work in such a way that God is honored. And so we work at our play, not to decrease the enjoyment but to maximize the effect. And in maximizing the effect of our recreation we gain enjoyment in both work and play.