Monday, March 4, 2013


"Do not push too hard with the work, God will take care of everything, and will give you strength to do all that needs to be done.  The rest is in His hands.  Realize yourself to be entirely in His love and His care and worry about nothing.  In these days you should be carried by Him toward your destination, and do what you do more as play than as work, which does not mean that it is not serious: for the most serious thing in the life of a Christian is play."

~Thomas Merton to Jacques Maritain, June 11, 1963

I wish that I could more easily take the advice given by Thomas Merton to Jacques Maritain to heart. While I don't consider myself overly serious, I do feel as though I can too often get wrapped up in striving so hard to accomplish my goals and the work before me that I miss God's hand in it. I get bogged down with the drudgery and miss the joy. I miss the forest for the trees. I move so quickly that I don't even notice the roses, let alone take time to smell them. I forget that the strength to do His will comes from Him. I fail to realize that I am entirely in His love and His care and I too often worry about so much - summer camps and re-registrations and observations and certificates of liability and Iowa Assessments and calendars for next year and being a dad and a husband and a brother and a son and a friend and a Christian. 

I need to approach my work and my life as play more than work. I need to play. 

It's one of the reasons that I love sports and one of the biggest reasons I became an educator: I love to play. Play has the ability to get people to transcend time, worries, anger, stereotypes and even age. Elizabeth can become instant playmates with just about any child willing to engage her. She can do the same thing for what seems to me hours - move sand, color, play doctor, read books, wash dishes, or pretend that baby spider or meow-meow or Doc 'Stuffins or monkey (pronounced 'mumpy') are dancing or eating or checking heartbeats. Bedtimes get eclipsed, short tempers get lengthened, and my days at school seem to fade away while I play with my daughter...well, actually daughters. Catherine loves watching her big sister and she laughs at sneezes and she fishes for smiles from others. So long as she is included in the playing, Catherine seems content. 

Kids have a magnetic attraction for play. They can find it just about anywhere and they seek it all the time. Kids love to smile, laugh, run, climb, dance. They explore. They get dirty. They draw. They imagine. They create. They love. 

Cultivating these attributes while at the same time managing a classroom / school is a delicate balance. Some students aren't mature enough, especially in a group setting, to both play and learn. So, teachers must walk this fine line gingerly. They must teeter between mischievousness and seriousness. The truly masterful teacher does it seamlessly. Their approach is one of excitement and wonder and that translates into their preparation, instruction and assessment. The rookie teacher, however, strives for too many rounds of jeopardy, word searches or back to back battles and misses the substance of things like objectives, formative assessments and time-on-task. Students may "like" the latter but they appreciate and respect the former.

Kids love adults who haven't lost their sense of play yet who still act like adults. Kids love it when as adults we love what they love but ultimately refuse to lower our standards just to win their favor. All people, regardless of age and at some level, love to play. Think about the last time you played. Or danced. Or laughed. It probably felt pretty good and you probably felt, "Why can't I always feel like this?"

I think that's why Jesus used stories to teach. Elizabeth could listen to one of my stories about her and mumpy and meow-meow and baby spider and Baby-Cath (her name for Catherine) for about as long as she could do any of her beloved playtime activities. Stories are playful and whether we're telling one or listening to one or watching one or reading one, we can get wrapped up in them. Stories are one way to remind us to play.    

Play is energizing. Play is therapeutic. Play is fun. Play is divine. 

Make a pledge to yourself to play today. Pretend you're a race car driver on your way to work (pretend, don't actually drive like one!). Sing to the radio. Dance. Smile more than you usually do. Be silly for no apparent reason. Try a new food, or better yet, a weird concoction or mix of foods that shouldn't go together (and then actually eat it!). Play. 

Play like a Christian today and every day.