I’m not particularly self-contained when I am happy. “Graceful” would not be the word of choice. At my brightest moments, I tend to jump, bounce, giggle, fling, or shout.
True confession: I lack awareness that I do this. People who know me well actually take pleasure in observing the strangers who bear witness to my most expressive outbursts…because a lot of those strangers end up laughing at me or mimicking me to their table of friends. At least that’s what I’ve been told…in those spaces, I tend to be blissfully unaware.
I love to play. But in spaces of doubt or hurt, I often attack play first, stacking judgment upon myself from both sides:
“That was so reckless. If I hadn’t been so…so…so foolish, maybe I would have been more practical. More objective. I rushed in, I didn’t count the costs, I didn’t make a plan, I didn’t think this all through. And I should have. Maybe that would have kept me and the people I love safer.”
“How could I think I was playful enough for this moment? If I had been more fun, maybe I could have kept life from becoming so serious. I focused too much on stupid little things when I should have been creating situations that made my people happy. Depression, anxiety, pain—if I loved well, I would have fought those forces with the light inside of me. I caved to the darkness. It’s my fault.”
Katy, who gave you license to pressure yourself that much?
Charles E. Schaefer, the father of play therapy, says,
“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything, than when we are at play.”
When life takes turns we never wanted to imagine, when loss or failure or heartbreak walks on scene, it’s the deeper and more tender parts of our soul that we are tempted to quarantine first. We’ve felt the disruption of sin violate our very core, so we shut those parts of ourselves off—to stop the bleeding and to prevent additional wounding.
And maybe Charles E. Schaefer is right: play is one of those deep spaces.
Last week, I got to spend a week of intensive study with some seminary friends. We learned a lot about each other. Looking back on the week, I continue to remain captivated and grateful for where they spent our free time reintroducing me to some more playful parts of myself…parts I was afraid might have quieted forever.
From jumping far too high and spinning in the air when I FINALLY bowled a strike to creating an absurd “Love Connection” skit where some friends and I played out highly irrational dating fears for the general entertainment of our community—we danced, cheered, erupted in laughter, hugged, cried, and affirmed each other.
In community, we invite one another to return to ourselves, to live fully from our depths—play and all.
But rarely does embracing community come easy. It will always carry risk; it will nip at your fears; it will undoubtedly leave you hurt at moments. And…what if there is goodness awaiting you on the other side? What if those parts of yourself that feel so quiet and lost are simply waiting for an invitation to play?
What if finding more of yourself starts with showing up for the fun and a simple “hello.”
Perhaps we can start with that, and let faith take it from there.
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 27 year old seminary student, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.