Let’s Play!

It’s been a crazy season.  Who am I kidding, every season is a little crazy, but there’s something about May that breeds its own kind of crazy (…like December).  So here I am, over two months later, writing another post.  For those still hanging with me, thanks!

During this crazy season, my family adopted a dog.  This dog is a good dog.  I love all dogs.  I’ve had 3 dogs before this one and I would say all were good dogs, but not like this one.  You see, this one is also well-behaved.  He doesn’t destroy things.  He doesn’t beg.  He doesn’t jump.  He plays well with other dogs.  He doesn’t bark or lick incessantly.  While this dog still hasn’t stolen my heart quite like my other dogs did (give it time, he will), it’s obvious that he is a very good dog.

But there’s one thing we noticed this dog lacking when we first brought him home: he wouldn’t play.

Even my most recent dog played…and he was fifteen when we lost him.  But this dog just wouldn’t play…and he’s one.  He’d snuggle and give kisses and wag his tail, but he wouldn’t play.  We took him to PetSmart and he didn’t pick up one toy.  We would throw a ball, squeak a squeaky toy…still nothing.

For my family and I, his lack of play was sad.  We got him from our Vet, who had nursed him back to health after he’d been hit by a car.  Thankfully for the dog (and us), he’d been socialized, walked, and loved after his accident by the staff.  I’m sure they also tried to play with him, but my mom and I couldn’t help but wonder if his lack of play was because he’d essentially lived in a kennel for over 7 months.

Then one day, something changed.

Milo played.

The toys we’d purchased for him suddenly became interesting.  He jumped around, looking ridiculous, as he carried his ball around, tossed his tug-of-war rope, and chewed his squeaky toy.  He still doesn’t get games most dogs understand (like fetch, tug-of-war, or actually squeaking the squeaky toy), but he does play.

My Psychology mind can’t help but think that Milo now feels safe.  We can’t play unless we feel safe.  For Milo, that took a little longer than the average 1-year-old dog, but it came.

So what does it matter if Milo plays? Sure, it’s cute.  It brings my family joy to watch him.  I think it also helps him though.  The more he plays, the healthier he seems.  It’s almost like each time he plays, looks absolutely ridiculous, and is still praised, the more confident he is about his new home and his new family.

There are some obvious implications about Milo’s play for kids and I plan to write more about that on my website later, but I think there are also implications for adults.

  1.  Play is good.  Our society sexualizes and cheapens play.  Yes, play can be sexual and sexual play is good in the right context, but play isn’t always sexual and it certainly isn’t dirty…at least in the way it was designed.  Adult play is associated with sin in our culture, but God designed us to play.  When Jesus says “let the little children come to me” in Matthew 19:14, I can’t help but think that part of the reason this teaching was unusual was because most rabbis were not into the sticky fingers, silly games, and endless questions that come with kids.  Play is interwoven in each aspect interacting with children, but Jesus welcomed it.  He wasn’t afraid to play and I have a feeling He was willing to look silly too.  I think we are buried so deep in sin that we sometimes don’t even know how to play in a way that honors God.  So, we work.  At the office.  At church.  At home.  (Or we play in ways that don’t honor God.)  Even the silliest activities can be fun if you’re willing to actually engage, like watching my goofy dog play with his newly discovered toys.
  2.  Play is needed.  Like Milo, we all need to play.  It’s a way to rest, recover, and heal.  Play is also how we connect to others.  You have to be vulnerable to play.  If you want to play with someone, you first have to ask or initiate.  That could result in a “no,” but it could result in a “yes.”  The “yes” could mean doing something silly or embarrassing in front of another person.  There’s something about that vulnerability that helps us connect and bond…and we all need relationships.  Play also required our full attention, which goes hand-in-hand with connection.  To really play we can’t be on our phones or multitasking, we have to engage.
  3.  Play has to be intentional.  Yes, the hallmark of play is spontaneity, but how often are we really spontaneous in our culture? Rarely! If we don’t really set out to plan and prepare for play, we won’t play.  For Milo, he needed tools ready for play, so he had them there when he was ready.  He also needed the time to play.  His playing was eventually organic and spontaneous, but it wouldn’t have happened without some preparation.  For us, that probably means getting enough rest that we feel like playing and planning times to play.  What would it look like for you to be more intentional in that area?

So, let’s play! I’m leaving here to toss a ball to the furry friend sleeping by me, what are you going to do?