Learning to Enjoy Play Again
When I was a kid, I loved having fun. In the summers, I spent my days shooting the basketball and playing backyard baseball with the neighbors. I pretended to be a detective and kept a journal of mysteries, where I recorded events that I interpreted as possible criminal activity. My friends and I made up plays, had dance parties, created bands, and planned fun parties for our parents. For a while, I loved pretending and acting, but after awhile, the magic started to wear off and I wanted to be more "grown up" in my activities.
As I increased in age, in faith, and in knowledge of the world, I started to feel like having fun was "bad." There were people in the world who didn't have enough food, slept on the streets, and children who died from preventable diseases. If they weren't having fun, was it right for me to have fun? Slowly, play and rest became difficult for me because they resulted in feelings of false guilt and confusion about what God wanted me to do with my life.
On the other hand, as an extrovert, I enjoyed playing games and sports. I loved spending time with my friends and family, having meaningful conversations, and laughing late into the night. These fun, joy-filled moments filled me up. But I didn't know that these beautiful moments were God-gifts. It took time to learn that I could witness God's presence, grace, and love through my friends and family, through laughter, through connection. Looking back, I can see that the guilt I was feeling stole my joy and ability to view this part of my personality as a gift that drew me to Him instead of a sin that pulled me away from Him. But what I didn't realize is that His goodness in connection with others was a way that I could experience Him more fully.
This lack of desire to play carried over into my relationship with my children. I had little to no desire to play with them because I could only think about my to-do list and other things that kept me productive and busy. Deep down, I knew they needed me to engage with them through play, but all I wanted to do was read books or write out my to-list or, quite honestly, anything else but play with them. I was so exhausted from teaching, youth leading, and managing meltdowns, that play, even with the kids I loved, felt impossible and demanding. I've always wanted to be an active mom, but truth be told, I became a mom who was just trying to survive the day-to-day demands thrown my way.
During the quarantine of COVID-19, my mind cleared, and I started to feel my old self - my fun, silly self - emerge. One day, when we were bored out of our minds, I made up a story on Toontastic (a storytelling app) in a silly accent. The kids were cracking up, and we spent a solid hour creating our characters and re-watching our creation. Although I didn't immediately feel comfortable in this carefree zone, I started to open up to the idea of keeping my relationship with my kids light. I began making it a goal to make them laugh, to see their beautiful smiles. And in turn, I noticed that I was laughing and smiling a whole lot more too.
Even more, this playing and smiling and laughing was meeting an important need for my kids. It is said that a child who has experienced trauma is emotionally half their chronological age. So, if a child reaches a stable environment at age 12, they very well could be functioning at an emotional age of 6. When I started to see how much my children enjoyed when I chased after them, played silly games with them, or pretended with them, I realized that, together, we were returning to an age of lighthearted play that they never got to experience. Through play, I could provide them with healing and love.
Healing was happening for my children through all of the silliness. We were bonding together. As I witness their restoration, I experience my own. As God heals them, He heals me. As I whisper, "you are precious" to my them, God whispers gently to me, "you are precious too."
My children have taught me how to be playful and carefree again. They've taught me how to enjoy what I enjoy and not take myself too seriously. They've re-opened a part of me that I didn't even know was accessible. They have shown me that play is not only fun and enjoyable; it's essential to our well-being. As I connect with my kids, I connect with the God of the Universe - who created us to play and rest and work and be with Him.
P.S. One way I've loved connecting with my kids is through sending them notes periodically. You can receive some free encouragement notes that you can easily print, fill out, and give to your kids to connect with them more deeply!