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I have an internet class for the first time, which is both terrifying and ironic.  When you have an internet class as an instructor, it never lets you clock out.  It follows you home, it invades your smart phone, and it knows no hours.  So I was stressing out about the beginning of the semester when my dog, the wonderdog Noel, brought, in her mouth, a deflated football that she chews on with an attitude of “it’s play time.” So I got on the floor and did the tug-of-war with the chew toy and we played.  And played. And played.

When I got up from the floor, the class work was still on the computer, but there was a part of me that was energized.  I watched a Ted Talk online where researcher Stuart Brown talked about the importance of play. You can find it here: http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital

Brown shows a remarkable sequence of pictures where a giant wild male polar bear approaches a female husky dog on a leash. Your first guess is that the dog is about to be the appetizer.  But apparently the two animals exchange nonverbal “let’s play” signals and the fangs go in, the claws retract and the two animals play.

When my kids were small, I remember the joy of playing with them.  I remember the laughter and the fun.  But we all outgrew it.  In her article, “The Importance of Play for Adults,”Margarita Tartakovsky, writes this insightful tidbit:

Our society tends to dismiss play for adults. 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. “The only kind [of play] we honor is competitive play,” according to Bowen F. White, MD, a medical doctor and author of Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.

(http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/11/15/the-importance-of-play-for-adults)

We are a little ahead of most of the adult population when it comes to the possibiltiy of play. While youth ministers often play as a part of their job, the right approach to play is critical.  Is it the unbounded joy and laughter that comes with getting on the floor and playing with a child, or is it another thing in the retreat schedule?

Let me encourage you to add play to your schedule.  Here are five ideas to push you in that direction.

  1. Change how you think about play. Use the word as a good use of time for adults. Understand its restorative and energizing place in a life that can become routine.
  2. Create time for play.  Spontaneously getting on the floor with the dog to avoid working on an internet class is great, but so is creating space in a schedule to play with your spouse, children or friends.
  3. Expand your definition of play. Play is more than church softball or a round of golf.  Play is also an organized game at a Sunday school party (instead of just awkwardly standing around). Play is a day at the park to explore and ride skateboards or throw a ball.
  4. Be creative with your play (play actually enhances creativity).  The youth minister can be the one who brings a game to a party since we have all the good games books. We can invent new games, some of which have a teaching function and some of which are just fun.
  5. Play with children.  Take a turn in your church nursery even if you don’t have children down there.  There is something so therapeutic about the sound of children laughing that I tried at one time to make it a ring tone for my phone.

Any time you think play is a waste of time, get over it.  Play offers benefits and inserts joy in relationships.  Play on.

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