SoulCare™ Practices

The Power of Play

John Voelz

October 17, 2022

5 min read

Recently, a group of barefoot children were running around an apartment complex near us. Lawn sprinklers were running and the children took the opportunity to use them to cool off. One young man sprinted to the end of the parking lot with a branch in his hands that was twice as tall as him and seemed awkwardly heavy. It had a t-shirt tied to the top as a makeshift flag. He jammed the branch into the grate of the storm drain as a group of children jumped up and down screaming with excitement.

I cheered as well.

When our children were young we were fond of telling them. “Every kid has a job. Your job is to play.” As they got older, we would tell them their job hasn’t changed.

Play, at any age, is necessary.

When is the last time you made time to play?

Mark Sakraida is the adventure therapy coordinator for the AAMC substance use and co-occurring disorder treatment facility. In an article posted in The Beacon entitled, “The Benefits of Play for Adults” Sakraida wrote, “ . . . just as children turn to play when they want to distress – or just enjoy their time – play can help you be the best versions of yourself when facing “adult problems,” like career stress, parenting, marriage and the many other responsibilities that come with age.”

We feel the effects of play deep in our souls when we experience it. The desire to play is intuitive.

That child that ran around using a stick as a sword in order to free the princess did not go anywhere. That child that borrowed mom’s makeup and did a play for the neighborhood kids still resides. That child who saw a spaceship instead of a cardboard box is in the mirror.

My wife used to ask me, “Is everything a game to you?” Yes. It is. Life is a song. A race. A contest. A sandbox. I don’t feel healthy when I am not playing. As often as possible. Everywhere.

We might enjoy floating on a pontoon boat, a casual bike ride, or tossing a ball with our children or grandchildren. But, a large percentage of us would have a hard time including play in our work routine unless it had some benefit such as the promise of financial reward. What might it look like if play permeated our entire lives–even work?

Office contests that have nothing to do with our job. A marshmallow war on break. Skipping stones in the pond at lunch. Writing poetry or sketching to start the morning. I used to have spontaneous dance parties with my office team and spin classic vinyl albums mid-day. Those five-minute escapes paid relational and mental dividends. We all have different personalities and ways we play. How might you play at work?

The Jewish Tanakh and Christian scripture share a poem about the creation of the world. In this poem, a Creator worked for 6 days and rested on the 7th. Whether you believe it or not, a closer look is much more magical. It’s a picture of a Creator playfully weaving together a world full of wonder. Picture the creation of oceans and land like a child builds a sandcastle or a mud pie. Picture the filling of the land and skies with animals and humans like a child builds a world in Minecraft. Picture the last day not as traditional rest (as if this Creator were tired), but rather a cessation from playful and creative work in order to enjoy it deeper and more fully.

Poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde wrote, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” Wilde highlights something we all know well–the “things to do” and the “stuff to take care of” often rob us of enjoying the very things and people we work so hard for. Including robbing ourselves of the joy that comes with decluttering our headspace.

I think the difference between merely existing and living a full, integrated life has much to do with play.

One might say, “There are things that are more important in life than play. Family. Health. Friends. Art. Purpose. Inner happiness.” To that I would say, being able to foster and enjoy these very things is play.

Reflection: 

  • How might our lives change if we scheduled play on our calendars and made play a priority?
  • What if play were the bigger “yes” on our to-do lists?
  • How would our relationships change if we played together?
  • How might play heal those wounds in our souls?

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