This is a frequent question asked to those who are dealing with depression, anxiety, or any other struggle causing problems in their life. The question is often met with silence or a blank look on their face.
Do you remember being told, “You need to grow up?” Sadly, most of us took that to mean we are to be serious and no longer enjoy play. George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we get older; we get older because we stop playing.”
What is play? Play is when you are in the moment and cannot think of anything else, and when time flies by (and you do not care). Play may have a competitive component, but that is the least important part. Adult play is when we strive to forget work and other commitments and be more social in an unstructured and creative way. The only objective you are seeking is to have fun and enjoy yourself.
The amount of time outside of work today for the average American grows every year, yet we seem to have more struggle playing in meaningful ways. For far too many people, play has become another stressful search to “win or else.”
When my son was much younger, I coached his t-ball team. It was amazing to see the children enjoying the fun of playing and they rarely asked the score or who won. Not so for the parents! Week after week a parent would approach me asking who won and appeared dumbfounded when I would say I did not know. Video gaming for all ages has provided more anonymity as people isolate in their homes and play against a faceless person with an imaginary avatar on screen. The days of sandlot baseball and pickup football have given way to “super-organized” sports with winning as the primary objective. Often children are not allowed to simply enjoy the game and are pushed into hours of practice, special trainings, and games that leave little time for family and church activities.
While these pursuits are not all negative, they can often lead to the fantasy of playing college and pro sports which only a small percentage achieve. The NCAA did a study and concluded, “out of all high school athletes, a little more than 7% of them head on to play in college each year. Then, out of the pack of college athletes, only approximately 2% of them will be drafted into the pros. In total, it gives a high school baseball player just a 0.16% chance of ever being selected by a pro team (college football player a .35% chance of being drafted to pro team, men’s basketball .28% and women’s basketball .19%.”
If we can discover the path to restoring “fun play” we will be amazed at how doing so will stimulate our mind’s imagination, improve our emotional well-being, increase creativity, and enhance our ability to resolve problems. In addition, it can increase happiness, decrease depression, improve our overall cognitive health, and lower risk of developing many age-related diseases.
In Elton Trueblood’s classic book, “The Humor of Christ” he enables us as Christians to understand the importance of fun and humor, “But when you imagine the sparkling eyes of Jesus and the hint of a smile on his lips, with the disciples winking at each other and elbowing each other in the ribs as they traveled along the dusty roads, many scriptural passages will often make much more sense.”
It is never too late to develop your playful, humorous side. If we are called “childish,” what is wrong with that?! Jesus had an extremely high view of children. Children are extremely creative, imaginative and are constantly desiring to learn more about their world around them, and that is healthy for us as adults also. The more you play, joke, and laugh, the easier it becomes.