It’s Summer, Let’s Play!

girl in backyard

As Dan Allender leads us through a series about play on The Allender Center Podcast, we wanted to share this reflection on the importance of play, which originally appeared on Red Tent Living. In it, Robyn Whitaker writes about how, for many years, trauma robbed her of the ability to truly play. For Robyn, the journey toward healing has required relearning what it means to play freely and joyfully. We were excited to see that Robyn included The Story Workshop as a resource that has been meaningful to her in this process. We believe, after all, that the beauty of story and the nature of play are intricately connected, both revealing the depth of the goodness of God.

My blue Schwinn came equipped with a flower-adorned white plastic basket, which I promptly removed. The requested three-foot sissy bar was a righteous addition. And that white banana seat, so dang cool! Kool-Aid ice cubes and drinks from the garden hose would quench my thirst after a long bike ride. Then there were the Oreos twisted apart, cream first, saving the chocolate cookie for last with a big swig from a frosty glass of milk. Summer was on!

I was born in June. Summer is my season. Hot steamy days and cool evenings found me out until dusk when my mother rang that horrid cow bell. Oh why couldn’t she whistle like David’s mother! Gosh, how easy it was to get up early on a school-free summer day. Unchecked, we kids had quite the adventures. I spent my days before 4th grade with tether ball, jump rope, four-square, swimming, pajama parties, dancing to the sounds of the ‘60s and early ‘70s, venturing farther from home on our bikes, rolling down grassy hills, laughing until I almost peed my pants and catching fireflies. Oh my, I knew how to play well.

Sadly, that would also be the summer I would experience my first remembrance of sexual harm. And yes, it would involve play. She was three years older. Everyone in our neighborhood wanted an invitation to play with Misty. She was pretty and popular. I was delighted that she had knocked at my door and asked to play—me, the daughter of the only divorced mother on the block, perhaps in my personal community. At first, time with Misty was good—so, so fun. I went to her house, she came to mine. I did things with her family and enjoyed these moments with a “real” family.

Then, one day Misty wanted to play “prince and princess.” She was the prince; I was the princess underneath the fragrant pines of my backyard. The moment came quickly and caught me off guard. Misty held me close as her hands moved to places I was told that Prince Charming always touched with the princess he loved the best. I was confused. It felt good. I wanted to be loved the best and I knew it was wrong. After she was finished, she left me abruptly.

The days that followed left me riding my bike all alone. Something was said to the other kids in the neighborhood as they stared, whispered, and giggled as I passed. I would knock on Misty’s door to see what had happened. Her mother said Misty was too busy to play. I asked what I had done wrong. “Misty needs friends more her own age,” her mother replied. Misty would not play with me again.

Oh my, how the carefree summer days changed. Suddenly, evil snatched my heart and body out of the realm of innocence, sweetness, and goodness. Ashamed, I told no one. I wasn’t sure my mother could handle it, and besides, she had her own problems. Unprotected and alone, I figured out life and filled in the blanks—I was bad. I couldn’t name how I had been harmed, I just knew I hurt. And play…well, for this soon-to-be 4th grader, play just seemed to get you into trouble. These thoughts were soon all validated by a young neighbor man in his twenties who watched my loneliness and came to play tetherball with me; eventually he would sexually abuse me for years. So play became all about conquering. I’d literally bleed for a win. I sent my child-self out to war, instead of out to play.

Play2To take part in an enjoyable activity simply for the sake of amusement—No way! I would not put my heart in such peril. You know—the ability to risk failure with all your heart and still have fun, win or lose, to color outside of the lines and allow your heart to fill with desire. All things required for play. Oh no, I could not bear the grief of failure; desire brought angst, while amusement was way too risky. It seemed better to be dead to all those things.

At twenty, I married a man who enjoyed taking pleasure in fun. He was more than a bit confused by my response to losing a game of Trivial Pursuit. “I will never play this game again!” I spat. And so it went with tennis, bowling, or any other form of play. I wish there were magic words, but it took time to untangle the many lies attached to my desire and redeem even a small amount of pleasure in play—or heck, even pleasure in general! As an adult I began to explore my story, name harm, hear God’s truth, and become hungry for more. And it has been a continuing process to “thieve back” the beauty of play that was stolen from me as a child.

My husband is peeking over my shoulder as I write. He asks, “So Robyn, what have you been doing for fun lately? How are you enjoying play?” Yikes…if he has to ask, then life has either gotten way too serious, I’ve hidden my heart again, or things are just way too busy. Unlike in our youth, our play as adults does take some intentionality. My heart loved his invitation to play.

I am a girl, a woman, who was created for extravagant, wild play. I bet you are too. Gone are the days of my blue Schwinn, yet my imagination is copious and energy—although I’m getting older—is abundant. Oh how I love to have fun! My heart has reengaged with the faith, hope, and love of my God. I have faith in a God who is big enough to take care of me and help me breathe deeply—even when I fear my failure and think I will die. I find my heart hoping for good things, anticipating a future created with God, and I am beginning to dream and play big! My heart now has the capacity to reveal love through the ability to give, receive, and play. Moreover, in the many seasons that I do forget who I am created to be, I have those who lovingly remind me of who and whose I am.

So, readers, it’s SUMMER! It’s July! Let’s play! And if you can’t bear the thought, please find someone safe to share your story of harm with—two resources that helped me in this journey are The Story Workshop and Journey Groups. It just might save your life. It did mine.

Robyn Whitaker lives in Texas with her beloved husband of 32 years. She has an adventurous heart that is learning to breathe. Lover of truth, seeker of story, aspiring author and newborn dreamer, this mother of three is in search of redemption and living her Kingdom purpose. Robyn writes here.