As soon as I spoke the words, I realized I couldn’t take them back. It was too late, and little did I know how much they would be used against me.
The words weren’t critical, cutting, or demeaning, but they were dangerous. Dangerous in a “disrupt my comfort zone and crush parental laziness” kind of way.
After observing the freedom in my seven-year-old-daughter’s soul to play and laugh, I looked into her deep blue eyes and said, “Avery, teach me to play like you play.”
What I was really saying was, Teach me to laugh. Teach me to carry the kind of joy you carry.
“Sure, daddy,” she said as a giant smile invaded the freckled landscape of her face, “Here’s your doll!”
She’s taken her new role as teacher quite serious over the last few months, and we’ve often had these kinds of exchanges:
“Dad, wanna jump on the tramp?”
“Not right now, honey…”
“Remember, you told me to teach you to play.”
Avery isn’t the only one teaching me to play, but God is, too. It’s actually quite important to Him.
Ashley and I took the kids swimming recently, and they were completely submerged in a matter of seconds. As for me, I was perched on a poolside lounge chair and fighting the urge to be a lazy spectator.
I eventually went and stood in ankle deep water hoping that would qualify as swimming with my kids. They laughed, threatened to splash me, and repeatedly launched invitations my way to “come swim!”
I hesitated…and stalled…and made one excuse after the next. You would have thought I was trying to muster the courage to swim in the open ocean with Great White sharks.
They eventually gave up and went back to their own fun and games. I continued to stand there, until I heard the familiar whisper of God’s Spirit.
Gabe, what do you think best represents my nature in this moment? For you to stand there and watch…or for you to get in and enjoy playing with your kids?
I took the plunge and belly flopped next to my three-year-old son, Owen. He released a cackle of a laugh and quickly jumped on my back. I spent the next hour playing like I was a kid again, and it was awesome. I only regret that I’ve been a slow learner.
I may be a work in progress, but I’m confident I’m heading in the right direction. I’m re-learning the art of playing, and as a result, of laughing.
There’s a reason the Scripture calls laughter good medicine. It’s an essential aspect of our God-given design, but we have to intentionally cultivate a lifestyle of play and laughter.
The well-known poet, W.H. Auden, stated that we are losing two of our most precious qualities, the ability to laugh heartily and the ability to pray, and he advocated on behalf of a sane world for better prayer and better play.
It’s especially beautiful when prayer and play collide, or when play is a result of prayer. I sat with a man recently who had the courage to share his story, a story riddled with the pain of rejection from his father. The man continued to pursue relationship with him for years despite the lack of response, eventually inviting him to do something he knew his father loved—play golf.
His voice trembled as he recounted that his father rejected the offer. The man had quietly gone about learning the game of golf for quite some time with the hope that he would be able to play with his dad. The realization that it was all for nothing was settling on him, and I could see the ache in his soul expressed through a single teardrop that rolled down his cheek.
While continuing to listen to him, I simultaneously turned to prayer and asked God what He wanted to say.
The response was quick and as clear as I’ve ever heard:
I want to play golf with him. Tell him that I’ll meet him on the course!
When the time was right, I shared with him that I believed God wanted to play golf with him. He initially looked at me like I had three heads, but the more we processed the nature of God as a deeply engaged Father, the more it made sense to him.
The experience caused me to ask my own questions: “God, how are you inviting me to play? What do you want to do together for fun?” I sensed His pleasure that I would even ask.
He has surely answered in a variety of ways, and continues to answer.
In fact, recently, He simply said…
More belly flops.