Play and Sabbath

Play and Sabbath

Heidi Hansen   •   January 25, 2016

”The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.”

G.K. Chesterton


Play has purpose. Adults can often look at children in the midst of play and think they are involved in something meaningless and unproductive. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Play is the work of the child.”

Jean Piaget and Marie Montessori both went to great lengths in their careers to articulate and defend this. It is not the kind of work with deadlines, time cards, bosses, and a pay check. It is the kind of work made of exploration, wonder, pleasure, limit testing, and creativity. It is the kind of work that pays in self-awareness, joy, laughter, discovery, and endless possibility.

This is the kind of work God invites us to as we sabbath. We can play. We can look at the world through the eyes of a child and engage in God’s creation with enthusiastic curiosity. We can run, and jump and tumble and take deep breaths of air as we live out our creatureliness, knowing that God delights in us delighting in his creation.

To rest in Jesus’ completed work on our behalf begs us to no longer rely on our own strength. We are prompted to let go of the false justifying of “important work,” and lie back to star gaze for a little while. We can now lie back and receive God’s presence so that we may recognize our true selves in relationship with him and thank him for his faithful provision in our lives. There is certainly risk involved in this slowing down and letting go. We may not like what we see in ourselves. We may experience a bubbling up of longing, grief, anger, or fear. We are not alone in this. God gives us friends, family, and community to endure hard truths with. This means sabbath-ing is communal.

Have you ever watched and listened to seven year old best friends play together? Their games are elaborate, mutually understood, and remembered fondly for a lifetime. Psychologists would say this imaginary cooperative play is a precursor to having healthy relationships as adults. Similarly, we are shaped by our sabbath experience with others. God continually invites his people into shared experiences so that we are built up into a community that is worthy to be called “bride.”

The Chesterton quote above, while striking in its imagery, lacks the nuance of what life on earth, this side of Jesus, is really like. The sentiment though that “the true object of all human life is play” rings true in that it feels like freedom from toil, suffering, and pain. Isn’t that what all of creation is longing for? Will the new heavens and new earth be the ultimate playground? In solidarity with my preschool friends, I sure as hell hope so!