By Karen O’Connor
“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).
A few weeks after my husband died in 2015, a good friend from church approached me. “Karen, how about taking some line dancing lessons? I teach a class at the senior center and I’d love to have you join us. I think it would be helpful to you in your grief.”
I was taken aback by Bruce’s invitation but intrigued by it as well. I’d tried line dancing some years ago and really enjoyed it, but was this the time for such an activity? Was it all right to start having fun again? What would people think of me? Maybe I should wait a year or so.
But Bruce’s words of wisdom and his slogan, “Dance your troubles away,” encouraged me to take another look at the value of play—especially true at this time in my life. “Where you find growth, you will find life,” he added.
A few weeks later I decided to give the class a try, despite my cautious thoughts. I loved it and kept going for a whole year and then moved into the intermediate group. Today the dancers perform at charity events in our county. I realized that stepping (or dancing) outside of myself, having fun, socializing, and offering my talents to others helped me to heal from the loss of my husband and carry on with the life God has given me.
The Value of Play
“Our society tends to dismiss play for adults,” said Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., Associate Editor of World of Psychology. “Play is perceived as unproductive, petty, or even a guilty pleasure. The notion is that once we reach adulthood, it’s time to get serious. And between personal and professional responsibilities, there’s no time to play. But play is just as pivotal for adults as it is for kids. Play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem solving, creativity, and relationships.”
These are good words from the world of psychology, but as followers of Christ we might wonder what the Bible says about joy and play. I appreciate this response I read from Got Questions Ministries:
“According to Colossians 3:17, we should give thanks to God through Jesus Christ for the fun and entertainment he provides. Someone once pointed out that ‘recreation’ means to ‘re-create’ or ‘renew.’ God allows us this time to be renewed and to grow in our faith. James tells us, ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows’ (James 1:17). Fun and entertainment are gifts of God, given so that we might come closer to him. We should remember this when we are planning our recreation and thank God for such a good and perfect gift.”
I am now doing just that—giving thanks to God for line dancing and for aerobics and for camping and hiking and reading good books and attending the symphony and traveling to new places.
Find Your Kind of Play
There are so many ways to play. Knitting, playing cards, bowling, or tennis may be one person’s idea of play and relaxation, but they may not inspire others. I wondered what some of my friends consider play in their lives. I asked a few to share what they do for fun and how it impacts their lives and their relationship with God. Here’s what I heard:
“I play at ‘knit night’ every Thursday,” said Lisa. She shares this evening with 8 to 20 women. “It’s my social outing of the week. We talk about our projects and progress and then move on to what’s going on in our lives. For the most part the evening is light and lovely.
“Having this play time keeps me connected to the outside world. I am an author, so I work alone. If I didn’t get out once in a while, I’d be stuck creatively. And playing also helps me with my faith, reminding me that I don’t have to always be serious. Sometimes I play with God. For example, when I’m writing or creating new coloring pages for one of my books and my creativity just flows, I can feel God smiling, as we do this project together.”
My friends Sherry and Doug have four children—three adults and one teen. Over the years they have kept their relationship in good shape by taking a short trip to celebrate their wedding anniversary. It’s a time of fun and play and rest and conversation that keeps their love and commitment alive.
“Recently,” said Sherry, “my husband and I, while on an anniversary trip, discovered the hotel had a Ping-Pong table. We played, aggressively I might add, and had a marvelous time. It reminded us of the times we played the game when we were dating during college. Great memories! Now we’re talking about saving up money to purchase a table for our home so we can play anytime we want.”
Carol shared that she and her husband, Don, “enjoy walking our dogs on the beach or sitting on the glider on our porch eating a light lunch and watching the beauty around us. We also love to travel. Taking time together is important for renewing and connecting and sharing our current needs and thoughts.
“Play and relaxation also open my mind’s creativity,” said Carol, “and I am then free to see God in creation and in people around me, to hearing opportunities he brings my way to serve others and to worship.”
Explore and Discover
Playing cards, swimming, ballroom dancing, golf, woodworking, collecting shells on the beach, and so much more are among the ways the people I spoke with add play to their lives. They keep themselves young at heart through adventure, hobbies, and travel, all of which bring them joy and contentment.
I hope each one of us will find a way to play every day, and several times a year e-x-t-e-n-d the time to a couple of days or a week. My writing colleague Helen and her husband, Bob, love to cruise. Currently they’re on a monthlong cruise in the Pacific Ocean.
But playtime does not have to be expensive or cost anything at all, for that matter. There are so many activities close to home. Visit an art gallery or museum, grow flowers or vegetables in your yard, coach soccer or Little League in your hometown, roller skate, surf, or join an arts and crafts club.
Don’t put off playing till tomorrow, when today is all you have.
“Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous” (Psalm 118:15).
Karen O’Connor is an author, speaker, and writing mentor from Watsonville, California (karenoconnor.com).