A Summer of Play, Part One

This week on the podcast, as we continue to welcome summer with open arms, Dan Allender and Becky Allender dive into a series all about the nature of play—what it is, why it matters, and how we go about pursuing it in a world that so often refuses to take it seriously. Dan says it’s not a coincidence that this series on play follow a series on rest, because the two are so intimately connected.

Dan: “Rest and play are simply the other side of the same coin. If you know what it is to rest, it really activates this process of engaging in play. […] And God has created within the very nature of the universe itself this reality of play.”

Becky shares how raising children, along with her work as a teacher, helped her learn that play is innate to each of us and a crucial part of our growth. Dan, on the other hand, has often found it easier to be drawn into work, with play as a bonus activity that might happen if you get everything else done—a posture that many of you will likely find familiar.

Dan: “We learn to engage the larger world by the particularity of the play that we’re in the middle of.”

Play is not an option if one wants to grow socially, psychologically, spiritually.

Because it is such a core part of how we are created, some part of us knows innately what play is and how to cultivate it—think of the instinctual sense of freedom embodied by schoolchildren on the brink of summer. But because play has become a foreign language for many of us, it’s helpful to identify a few categories that are part of the nature of play, including competition (which might involve risk, danger, or potential loss), exploration (which evokes curiosity, imagination, and creativity), and restoration (play that fosters rest and ease).

Dan: “We need to be called forth out of what our body and our very being often wants—which is safety. We need danger. We’re called into a world that is dangerous, and we’ve got to practice—and play becomes a form of practice in the engagement of danger.”

In each of these categories, there is also a deep hope for a kind of transcendence in play: the idea that nothing else matters outside of this moment, that pending tasks and unread emails and tense meetings—these stresses and concerns are quieted in favor of the deeper life play invites us into.

Dan: “When you’re in the middle of significant play, you’re not thinking about the past, you’re not troubled or worried about the future, you have a kind of consummation in the present. In that sense, it’s dangerous, it’s the unknown, it requires strategy, imagination, risk, but it also opens the door to a kind of letting go of almost everything else to be focused and engaged in the present.”

With trademark vulnerability, Becky and Dan reflect on some of the practices they have cultivated over the years, as well as the ways in which they recognize they are just beginning to learn how to play. And it is a learning process indeed, because there are all sorts of obstacles and pressures that keep us from engaging deep, meaningful play. That’s what we’ll be wrestling with next week: the internal pressure, cultural messages, and other factors that all too often inhibit our ability to play. Our prayer for you—and all of us—is that the summer ahead will be full of profound, surprising experiences of play.