My Journey toward Playfulness

Two girls playing in a stream of water, laughing joyfully

Losing My Playfulness

As a preschooler, I drove my mother wild with my irrepressible energy and curiosity about life.  I was into everything, and I never stopped.  Life was a delightful surprise, and I was going to taste, touch, see, learn about all of it.  My mother tells me I was a happy kid, and I do remember joy.  Exuberant, loud joy.

Two girls playing in a stream of water, laughing joyfully

Then somewhere along the way that changed.  Maybe it was the losses, like my parents’ divorce and my grandmother’s death.  Or maybe I started feeling uncomfortable when I went to school and the kids teased me for being short.  And there were the other dysfunctions often found in families that caused me to take on the role of caretaker.  My job was to make sure everyone was okay and to hold the family together.  Many ministers, counselors, and others in the helping professions accepted that role as children.  Responsibility was important to me.  If I messed up, the consequences were serious. I still knew joy.  Sitting in trees, watching the water flow in the stream, staring at shadows – these all gave me a sense of peace, security, and wholeness.  At times, I even felt the touch of God.But I had lost my light-heartedness.

A Painful Shyness

Like most people’s, my childhood wasn’t all bad.  There was kindness, love, and a wealth of nature outside my door.  And I took on adult responsibilities before I was ready, and somehow I lost the ability to play.  By the time I was a teenager, I was so shy, I wouldn’t say anything in a group, and if for some reason I did speak, my voice was so quiet, no one could hear me.

“What?” they’d ask.

“Never mind,” I’d say.

How annoying.  I understand that some people would love to live their teenage years over again.  Not me.  Sure, my body is aging, I have creaks and moans where I felt only strength and vitality before.  But I also have the gift of playfulness again.  I dance and sing and tease and feel happy.  Given some of the struggles in my life, I don’t relax and play as much as I would like.  Yet, if I don’t take time to rest, I can’t be the responsible person I basically am.

Taking Care of Ourselves

And rest, play, the recognition of the wonder and beauty of the world is necessary if I’m going to stay strong in my recovery.  When we get overwhelmed by all we have to do, when we hold in our emotions, when we forget to take ourselves lightly, we are at risk of relapsing.  Maybe not drinking or using drugs, or gambling again.  Maybe all we do is lose our tempers, or eat too much for a few days, or isolate.  We lose ourselves.

So what do we do?  I don’t know about you, but when I get testy and short-tempered, I know I am avoiding something.  Either I’m not letting go and letting God, or I’m not taking time for myself, or I’m not acknowledging my sadness and fear, or I’m trying to hide the shame I feel, or I’m not allowing people to help me.  After all, I’m the only one who can do it right.  Is that true for you as well?

To cope, I need to step back and look at myself.  With compassion; with kindness.  If I lecture or judge myself, I’m just going to hide some more.  And at times, I forget, and things get worse for a while before they get better.  And hopefully I haven’t hurt others in the process.  At least not so badly I can’t make amends.

Seeking Healthy Play

There’s a dark side to playfulness, of course.  We can get lost in clownish activities, in jokes, in parodies.  That’s a great way to keep people distant from us.  My hope for myself is to learn to play with kindness, with freedom, with love and joy.  What helps me do that is remembering I am not that important.  I am beloved, but I am not holier-than-thou.  And I have animals around me, and friends and colleagues, who know how to make happy jokes and play fun games.  I seek them out.

How about you?  How do you remind yourself to play?  To take time for yourself?  To let go, let God, and have a good laugh?

In faith and fondness,
March 2013

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash