How the Power of Play Brings You Closer to God

I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket, and that’s how I came to be out our local Barnes & Noble one Friday morning.

The last time I stepped into a Barnes & Noble, we were living in a different state, and the bookstore had been connected to a mall, back when malls were still A Thing.

I took my time that morning, leisurely poking around at their offerings. A whole wall of Lego sets. A display of fancy candles. Another wall of journals and notebooks. An endcap of literary mugs. Colorful pens that would surely make my writing shine. Near the cashier, I found a doodling set from Tombow: a how-to guide and 18 dual-tipped markers.

But I was here for books! I continued on past their charming merchandise and perused the aisles. Fiction, poetry, the Christian section. Nothing caught my eye. I was trying to concentrate on the titles, but that Tombow doodling set kept tapping me on the shoulder, asking me for attention.

I think that’s meant for young girls, I told myself.

You think you want it, but it’s just going to be one of those impulse buys, cast aside and making you feel guilty for wasting your money.

Since when do you draw? You’ve never shown any interest in doodling: not in school notebooks, not during boring meetings.

But when was the last time you did something fun? With no purpose or end-game? For the sheer joy of it? Didn’t you write a whole article about how play is a spiritual practice?

I turned away from the bookshelves then, and followed the fun.

At home, I opened the box, tried some of the marker colors, and flipped through the how-to booklet.

I am going to be so bad at this, I thought, smiling.

Becoming women who play

Women are notoriously bad about playing, according to Stuart Brown, author of Play and founder of the National Institute for Play. We shoulder too many adult responsibilities at home and at work to engage in play—which is defined as any activity that brings a sense of pleasure and enjoyment, done for its own sake rather than for any practical purpose or outcome.

Doing something for the pleasure of it with no apparent purpose seems like an extravagant waste of time when you are managing a household, raising children, working a job, etc. In our culture of hustle and productivity, it is radically counter-cultural to do something for the sheer joy of it.

We like to justify our fun:

I’ll learn how to knit… and give this scarf as a gift.

I’ll try this delightful new recipe… and feed my family too!

I’ll take up paddle-boarding… and tone my abs.

I’ll paint this side table… and resell it.

There’s nothing wrong in having a purpose for our fun. It can make the mundane (cooking, exercising, making/saving money) more enjoyable. But, as I’m learning every time I put marker to paper, there is something soul-filling about doing something fun for no reason.

I lose track of time as I color. I have zero self-consciousness about drawing a smiley face on a teacup. I take delight from the process instead of the product.

how the power of play brings you closer to God

Loving a God who plays

I’ve come to believe that God created our world with play and delight so that we might play and delight in Him. Instead of fashioning the universe to be purely operational, God added beauty and variety to our natural world in a display of creativity that can seem almost frivolous. The sun doesn’t need to rise and set in a dizzying array of color. Parrots don’t need the ability to talk. Streams of water don’t need to gather into impressive waterfalls.

It makes me wonder if God is part toddler on the beach, building from sand, if God took playful delight in the act of creation. Or if God sat at the kitchen table, surrounded by makers, playing around with ten thousand types of mushrooms.

As people who are created in this very image of God, we have the same instinct to play, to seek out delight, to marvel at the beautiful, to create for the sheer joy of it. Kids are naturals at this. We grownups can be prone to bury these instincts in favor of tending to life’s demands and responsibilities, to value product over process.

Consider what Rachel Marie Kang says in her book Let There Be Art:

“This matter of play is more about truth than it is about time. It’s just as much about belief in purpose as it is about belief of pleasure. It matters to do things because you want to and not because you have to. It matters to believe that you exist not simply because of what you can do but because of who you are.”

RACHEl marie Kang

This idea of play is closely connected to rest and delight. Together, they form a rubber band ball of a spiritual practice so that every time we pursue a playful pastime, we become enmeshed in rest and delight as well. Every time we choose play, we are declaring that we are worthy of rest as children of God. Every time we do something for the pure fun of it, we are delighting in God’s creation just as God delights over us.

So, grab your paintbrush.

Pick up that yo-yo.

Learn to moonwalk.

Get your hands dirty.

Lose track of time.

It’s time to play!

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*Feature photo from Canva

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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