Learning to play {Christianity and Creativity series}

Alice Buckley is one of those souls whose words are filled with light and Jesus, even when she doesn’t seem to know it. She writes on how she teaches the Bible creatively to kids, including disabled children. I am privileged to count her as a dear friend, and she has wise words to say on a theology of play. Over to Alice:

I am trying to learn how to play again.
My faith had become about function – what must I believe in order to belong to Jesus and get to heaven? But there’s no fun in function and there’s been very little joy in my faith. I reached a point where I could say I was very glad Jesus died and rose again and very grateful and pleased – but I didn’t love him. I didn’t want to know about his life – I only needed his death.
It was a functional faith. It would have got me to heaven, but it didn’t give me Jesus and it didn’t bring me joy.
Play is defined like this:
To engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.

My children are excellent at playing. It’s like they’re addicted – everything becomes an opportunity to play. Play is their way of testing the world, it’s their path of discovery and adventure. But my children’s main aim while they play isn’t to get cleverer or to get it right; it’s to enjoy themselves and have a good time. Learning is a happy accident, play is their main purpose. Play affects their whole world and involves their whole selves.
I have placed my faith firmly in the category of ‘serious and practical’ and have moved on from ‘enjoyment and recreation’ – after all, I’m a grown up now. But I wonder if by growing out of play I’m missing out on joy.
Made to play
God didn’t make a mistake in allowing us to be children before we are adults. Playfulness is a mark of his workmanship. I don’t think we’re meant to give up playing, it’s just we feel ashamed of our desire to do something purely for the sake of enjoyment. We feel we must justify everything in terms of how ‘useful’ it is for the gospel. This inevitably makes us feel slightly guilty about that trashy novel we read, or the scarf we knitted, or the hour spent writing instead of preparing a bible study.
I wonder whether we’ve made a mistake in separating these things – putting enjoyment and recreation on one side and serious practicality on the other.
I was struck by this as I watched my three year old eat her lunch.
I ate my cheese sandwich, crisps and biscuit quickly with one eye on my laptop screen. I finished lunch quickly without really tasting it and then noticed Jemima.
She rolled her tomatoes on the table just to feel the sensation of the small spheres against the palm of her hand.
She looked at me before she bit her cracker, “are you ready Mummy? Listen to this!”.
With each bite of biscuit she proclaimed it a boat, a dog, a chicken, a n’elephant.
Fighting my desire to tell her to hurry up I forced myself to see her and pay attention. Even when she eats her lunch she plays. She can’t resist it.
We both ate our food, we were both satisfied and the practical purpose of our mealtime was fulfilled. But she had savoured it, she brought joy to a mundane moment – a certain frivolity to the functionality.
Learning to play again is about bringing a sense of joy and exploration to the serious and practical bits of life – including my faith. I want to learn to close the gap I’ve created between recreational enjoyment and serious practicality.
Learning to play again is learning to live creatively in the image of my creator.
For me, play is creativity. It’s pursuing beauty and joy and satisfaction knowing that we’re designed to live every bit of our life. It’s not only the spiritual things that matter. In fact, the scratch of the nib on paper, the scraping of the bowl, the rinsing of the brush, are the spiritual things too.

The lovely Alice Buckley
Alice Buckley lives in Lancashire (UK) with her husband and three children. She loves tea and Green & Blacks cherry chocolate. Alice is writing a book for parents about helping pre-schoolers get to know Jesus through play. She blogs at www.playontheword.com (but is currently having a little rest!). Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Over to you:

  • What do children teach you about creativity?
  • Can you relate to having a faith that feels ‘functional’ instead of enjoyable?

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11 Responses to Learning to play {Christianity and Creativity series}

  1. Joy Lenton 24th July, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    Alice, this really got me thinking. As a child discouraged from full play and exploration, I have grown into an adult that still seeks permission for time out. Yes, even as a person rooted to bed or settee for hours with M.E. In these Autumn years of my life I think I am finally beginning to take faith seriously in terms of relatonship with God first and foremost and to take myself and my life a little less so. Now I am looking forward to becoming a grandma later this year and exploring play all over again!
    Your words, “Learning is a happy accident, play is their main purpose” made me wonder if knowing God intimately could be a happy byproduct of pursuing Him personally rather than stopping short at accepting His gift of salvation, great as it is. In the relaxing, letting go moments of life grace slips in almost unawares. Then we look back with gratitude and wonder as we say, “That must have been God”. Often we learn the most when we try the least.

    • Alice 28th July, 2013 at 10:14 am #

      Gosh, Joy! I want to write this out and remember it – grace slips in unawares. Thank you so much for sharing some of what this means for you at the moment. x

  2. Stephanie 24th July, 2013 at 2:31 am #

    Such good thoughts. Pondering…

    • Alice 24th July, 2013 at 5:51 am #

      I’m still pondering too, Stephanie! x

  3. Ruth Norbury 23rd July, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    ‘Learning to play again is learning to live creatively in the image of my creator.’ I love this phrase – might stick it up somewhere at home as a reminder! Thanks for thought-provoking words Alice – as always! xx

    ps – Have you read Marcus Honeysett’s book Finding Joy? He’s great at encouraging ppl to find joy in Christ and not just settling for functional faith!

    • Alice 23rd July, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

      Oh Ruth, I haven’t heard of that but suspect it would be brilliant for me – thank you so much for the suggestion. Jesus is so worth my joy! xx

  4. Mark Allman 23rd July, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    So well said. We need to not just accept what Jesus did; we need to pursue and know Him. We do need to relish the journey and savor the moments. For there is beauty and joy in the mundane if we look for it. Joy does not always flow out of what we are doing but more out of the attitude we have as we do whatever.

    • Alice 23rd July, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

      Yes, I really like the distinction – it’s perfectly possible to experience joy while putting the washing on the line and to feel full of bitterness while out for a delicious meal. It’s the pursuit and true knowledge of Jesus I’ve found hard – I’ve wanted it to be easier than any other relationship but (like any other relationship) I guess if I wait for intimacy to ‘just happen’ it never will! I appreciate this, Mark.

  5. Alice 23rd July, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Thanks Helen, you’ve put it so well – Amen!

  6. Helen Parsons 23rd July, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    Love this but picked up on the sentence ‘I didn’t want to know about His life, only needed His death’. How true that often is and has been my experience too in the past. May God preserve us from being dead to the present and the future.


  1. Let Us Play | - 12th November, 2014

    […] Alice Buckley for my series on creativity – Learning to Play. […]

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