I am teaching English as a second language to a young Polish man. Over the past few months, I have become friends with his family. I have had a delightful time with him teaching the strange language we call English. Sometimes his wife has joined in the conversation. English is hard, and southern English is even harder to understand when you’ve learned it on the continent. Their three-year old daughter has struggled too. Making friends can be tough when all those around you are speaking a different tongue.
This past week I was able to babysit the daughter. The purpose was to give a break to the mother, who recently gave birth to a little boy, and to help with Basia’s conversational skills. I brought books and decided we were going to play. So we played. I had forgotten how much fun it is to amuse a child with senseless games. Of course I added meaningful conversation to our activity—“the big piggy bank chased the giraffes up the leg, down the leg, over the chair and around the pink bear.”
I showed her how to put diapers on baby dolls and wrap them up tightly in blankets. I had the pig read a story to the giraffes to atone for having been a scary chasing thing. The toy box became a bus, and we lined up the stuffed animals on top so they could go for a ride on the school bus as we sang, “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” When Mom came home, we hid beneath a quilt. I had great fun.
Occasionally, as parents, we make time for this. Most often, however, we have a long agenda of things that must be accomplished during the day. Fix dinner, do dishes, mow the yard, wash the car, run an errand or two, bathe the children. We fall into bed exhausted in our attempt to meet a standard unheard of in many other cultures.
After my dad died a couple years ago, what I found myself regretting was that I didn’t play with him more often. I regretted my lists, not the spontaneous bursts of joyful activity along the way. We didn’t make enough trips to Barnes and Noble to watch the sun set, or eat enough cake from the local bakery. I didn’t listen to the war stories as often as I should have or pause to eat breakfast with him because he ate sooo sloowwly. I miss him.
Why do we do that? Why do we quit playing? When does the seriousness of living become so important that we forget to chase (or at least notice) butterflies or pause to throw snowballs at one another on crystal white days? Why do we get on with business and avoid the joy of being present with someone we love while allowing them to lead the way into deeper understanding and play.
We have to make a living. (But what is truly necessary?) We need clean clothes. (But how many?) We need houses. (But how big?) We want our children to be successful, but baseball, piano, and karate? I want more life: more heart thumping, belly laughing, lay-back-and-watch-the-clouds life. I also long to have my life impact the world around me. I want loving, meaningful relationships, and that takes time. I want to see people clearly and notice God’s glorious creation—not simply rush past it all to get to the next item on the agenda.
A vibrant walk with God takes time too. It takes time in prayer, worship, and the Word of God. It also entails wonder and delight. Scripture says, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” For me, that means laughing with God over his often-funny creation or applauding him for the melody of birds. Delight also implies a life of intentional love and active kindness. When we love others, we enter into the heartbeat of God, for he is a God of compassion, mercy and joy. And that’s a glorious thing.
So friends, today, as you make your to-do list, add: 1) Today I will notice God’s glorious world and laugh, and 2) I will play.