The Discipline of Play

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Somewhere along the way I traded exploration, creativity, imagination for utility.  Somewhere along the way I decided usefulness trumps play.  When time is short, and the reality of the darkness of our world creeps in, and work threatens to suffocate, who has time for art?  Who has time for recreation?  Who has time for pleasure?  When my Christian brothers + sisters around the globe are losing their heads for their faith, how can I justify sitting idly and losing mine in a book?

I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great theologian and pastor in Germany during the Nazi regime, desperately fighting against the dominance of the Nazi mindset and theology, its putrid sectarianism creeping into Christ’s very church.  What a time to live in!  Believers during that time were facing intense persecution and the daily knowledge that their time was short, their lives were at risk.  Hardly was there time to waste when doctrines must be fought for and upheld, lives must be rescued.

And yet, even in the midst of this time of war, Bonhoeffer, who led + taught a seminary, regularly included recreation as part of the seminarians disciplined life.  Did you catch that?  He made sure they had time to P L A Y.  Who could possibly think about playing in a time of such great risk and suffering?

But the reality is, who can think at all if one doesn’t have the release found in play?

One of Bonhoeffer’s students said,

“Bonhoeffer wanted a genuine, natural community in the Preacher’s Seminary, and this community was practiced in play, in walks through the richly wooded and beautiful district of Pomerania, during evenings spent in listening to someone reading, . . . in making music and singing, and last not least in worship together and holy communion. He kept entreating us to live together naturally and not to make worship an exception. He rejected all false and hollow sentiment.” (I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p.155)

Sometimes when the world is spinning crazy and threats of war overwhelm, we must remember our humanity, we must still honor the creativity with which our Creator instilled in us.  He made us to be creative in His image.  He made us to be moved by music, to be triggered by the beauty of nature toward mediation on His divine attributes.  When we are tired and weary, we must discipline ourselves to play.

We must make art in the face of war.

And even in the weariness of our regular work, we must sabbath and refresh our souls.

Something God has been teaching me lately is to honor His creativity in me, the desires I have to pursue the arts.  It was more natural to me as a child; I have journal after journal of poetry, drawings + scribblings, and stacks of songs I had written from my younger years.  Then I “grew up” and gave all of that up in the name of maturity, adulthood, in the name of pursuing God.  Somehow I separated “creating” from true spirituality, no longer seeing it’s use in the Kingdom work.

But God is calling me to be a child again in my creating.  To honor the longing to write, to get back to the work of play.  Plain and simple play, play that isn’t for any purpose other than play.  No agenda, no hoped-for-outcome.  For a utilitarian like myself, this is a discipline!

So, yesterday, after the kids were napping and my household tasks were mostly done, I sat down with a paintbrush + paper.  I’ve never worked with watercolors before, never really painted much before.  It was humorous to me how many times I got nervous about what I was doing, afraid to “mess it up,” and literally had to say out loud to myself, “This is just play.  Just fun.”

This was the outcome (and, not pictured: a restful, happy me):

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Let’s take time to play, let’s discipline ourselves to play when all the world is telling us that only what is profitable, only what is measurable is valuable.

Who knows what we could create?  Who knows what beauty we might bring forth?

The Fringe Hours

“The glory of God is man fully alive.”
St. Irenaeus

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It was the first hike we’d been on in awhile and it was fresh air to my soul.  I had had a hard labor with my second born and also a very slow recovery.  I was fully wrapped up in my newfound role as “Mommy” to my two precious little ones, and the days were full.  But on that hike, I remember hearing a quiet whisper in my soul, like the whistling whisper in the pines:  “Remember who you are.”

I snapped a picture of our chacos, my husband and I, to remember.  We met leading backpacking trips for an outdoor program, but we had spent little time nurturing that part of our hearts since having kids.

Fast forward a few months…

It was “that” time of day again.  You know what I’m talking about, if you have little ones.  The bewitching hour, the 5 o’clock melt down.  I was hurrying to get dinner on the table, while my three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son squabbled and whined around my feet.  I was pregnant with our third, and it had been a long day.  One of those days where you are literally counting the minutes until your husband gets home.  And banking on the fact that when he walks in the door, you are beelining it to the bathroom for a quiet moment.  Or twenty.

Hot steam from the oven rising in my face, waves of nausea rolling over me as my body was telling me dinner needed to be ready soon, and of course, the phone rings.  My husband calling, saying he would be late again.  The realization sinks in that I’ll be wrangling these two wild ones into the bath and pajamas and bed on my own again, another night.  In that moment, it’s hard to hold back the tears.  But I surrender to the inevitable and get back to work.

A few hours later when my husband is finally home and we’re catching up about the day, he’s asking me if he can go on a sailing trip that weekend with his dad and that’s when I sort of have a break down.  Alone again with the kids?  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I adore my children!  But the hard thing sometimes about being a mother is your job doesn’t end at 5pm. You don’t get to leave the office and come home.  You are always on-call.  Even in my sleep, there’s a part of me that’s listening for anything out of the ordinary, listening for that child who might need me.

That’s when I had a break down of sorts.  That’s when I realized things were just sort of out of balance.  With my husband training for a marathon, he was leaving for long runs early in the morning, sometimes as early as 4 am, and then sometimes not getting home until the kids were already in bed.  I felt like a single parent some days.  But as soon as I felt the words, “I need a break!” rising like a scream in my soul, I felt something even stronger rise up: guilt.  A break from my kids?  What kind of mother says that?

I didn’t begrudge my husband for what he needed to do and for the responsibilities he was juggling.  I just began to realize I needed to start protecting a little bit of time for myself to get away and turn off the constant “ON” button in my brain.

When all this began pouring out in a hot mess of tears, my sweet husband was more than happy to accommodate.  He agreed, it was important for me to have some time to step away and just do what would reenergize me.  We began working some things into our schedule, and he was persistent in asking me if I needed some getaway time on the weekends.  At first, I continued to feel guilty taking this time, whether it was just to grocery shopping without the kids, or go out for a cup of coffee with a friend.

I couldn’t shake this sense that I really needed to be there for everything.  Like it was wrong for me to not be there every night to tuck them into bed, or to not be there when they got up from their naps.  I couldn’t shake the sense that I felt like I needed to “please everyone to the point of emptiness” (Fringe Hours, p. 41).  But we pressed on.

With practice came more freedom.  It became easier to let go, to see that my kids really enjoy having some time alone just with Daddy.  It was amazing to see how a little time away refreshed and reenergized me to jump back in to my tasks at home.  It felt like I was coming alive again, enjoying my family more instead of being irritated at everyone for always asking for more.

You see, I believe Jesus teaches us that we are to serve from a place of overflow, not emptiness.  We are to be so filled up in Him first, and then from that place, we pour out to others what He has given to us (Luke 6:45, John 4:14).  Even Jesus, in His perfection, pulled away frequently from all others to a quiet place alone with His Father for refreshment.  If the Son of God needed to refresh Himself in order to best serve the world, how much more do we?

This is why I think Jessica Turner’s book, The Fringe Hours will be a wonderful help to many women who find themselves worn down, weary, never making time for themselves, and often drowning beneath the effort to please everyone to the point of emptiness.

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I can’t tell you how many friends have talked with me about this particular struggle, the struggle to find time to do the things they love.  Many believe that we simply have to forego those hobbies or passions during this season of motherhood, and while I agree that different seasons of life allow for different freedoms, “we must not confuse the command to love with the disease to please” (Fringe Hours, p. 45).  I think sometimes we wrongly assume that Christ’s call for us to serve others means we should be haggard, depleted, always giving and never resting.  I think sometimes we think the more worn out we are, the holier we must be, and we wear our exhaustion like a badge.  God made us whole people, with a body, a mind, a heart, a soul.  We are to tend to these aspects of our being out of reverence to Him and as part of worship to Him (Romans 12:1).

What are we teaching our daughters?  I look at my now 4-year old girl and I wonder what her mother looks like in her young eyes.  Does she look like an empty shell of a woman, always bedraggled, wearing yoga pants, exhausted, and slaving away over chores or running the kids around to various activities?  Or does she see a woman who is enjoying life while being a momma?  A woman who is still herself, still loves the things she always loved, makes time to play guitar, to hang out with girlfriends, to pursue creativity, making things with her hands?  Does she see a woman who is bubbling over with life?  A woman who is fully invested as her mom, but still has passions and ambitions?  Or does she just see a tired, irritable woman?

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Jessica Turner, the lovely lady behind the popular lifestyle blog The Mom Creative, didn’t just write this book from her own intuitions about women and how they use their time.  She surveyed over 2,000 women and conducted research, and then drew from her findings to write this book.  The Fringe Hours is meant to help women take back pockets of time that they already have and utilize them in order to pursue the things they love.

This book is super practical with tons of tips and ideas for how to better manage your time and also to discover creative ways to fit your passions into your day.  For example, research shows that every person waits on average 45-60 minutes per day.  Jessica discusses ideas like planning ahead and keeping a book with you, a needlework project you’re working on for a friend, or notecards to write encouraging words to a loved one while you wait.  She discusses barriers to self-care such as guilt, comparison, and self-imposed pressures.  She helps you identify some of your old passions and gives many ideas to encourage you to continue pursuing those things, even if it looks entirely different in your current season of life.  She also discusses ways we can identify areas in our lives that need more attention

One of my favorite features of the book was that it was interactive with journaling sections peppered throughout each chapter, causing me to respond and record my reactions and goals as I read.

If you find yourself sort of drowning beneath the waves of busyness in your life, this book will be a great help and advocate for you to spend your time well and invest in what truly matters so that, ultimately, you can better glorify God.

Here’s a little trailer from Jessica!  Also, you can find out more about the book + read the first chapter HERE.