Fun for Fun’s Sake
A few weeks ago, my two-year-old son, James, and I were parked in the car, waiting for quite a long time for my wife to come out of a meeting. To pass the time, we started dressing up daddy: a pair of broken sunglasses, a dirty old baseball cap, and a red clown nose. Needless to say, my outfit drew odd glances from passersby. Before long, we were laughing and giggling, playing and having fun. When we paused for that sweet after-laugh sigh, it occurred to me that I didn't at all mind the wait. In fact, I was having a blast, and it was great to have this time with my son. I turned to the back seat, where James was then feeding a stuffed animal and said, “I'm having fun with you, James.” He stopped his game for a moment, looked me in the eyes, and said, “You're welcome, Daddy.”
James may not have understood the depth of his comment, but I sure did—fun is a gift and we should appreciate it. Fun is a gift from God, a gift of inherent value that need not be legitimized by the presence of a moral lesson or liturgical justification. Having fun, for fun's sake, is a valuable Christian practice.
The problem with fun in youth ministry seems to be that we either place too much importance on it (resulting in a group that is all fun and games, and no meat), or we place too little importance on it (resulting in an overly serious, boring youth group). But there is a healthy way to incorporate play into the fabric of a fulfilling Christian life wherein play is an important, albeit not all-important, thread.
A Time to Rejoice…
To begin, we should recognize fun as a means to fulfill God's call to rejoice. Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4), and yet how often do we allow our kids to do just that? In the “lost” parables of Luke 15, the celebrations of the kingdom of heaven begin with God's call to “Rejoice with me.” This celebration, which includes eating and dancing, is all too often absent from the lives of our teens. Celebration and rejoicing are responses to God's goodness. Rejoicing and dancing are appropriate actions in the joyous lives of the people of God, as David's dance before the Ark shows.
While it's true that these examples—David before the Ark, the “lost” parables, and Paul's call to rejoice in Philippians—are in response to specific situations (i.e., the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, the return of a lost soul, and the spread of the Gospel), certainly we have as much to be joyful for in our lives. Are our churches not full of souls that once were lost, but now are found? Isn't the Gospel being spread around the nation and the world? Don't we all live in the presence of the Lord? And isn't this cause to rejoice? If we're joyful to be Christians, then we can play and have fun without guilt, without fear, and without feeling we must tag on a moral lesson to fun time to keep it from being wasted time.
Keep the Sabbath…
But there's more than just rejoicing in our fun. Also involved is an element of the Sabbath. Time away from work isn't just a suggestion, remember, it's a commandment. Yet if we turn our fun time into little more than vehicles for the moral lesson of the week, then we begin to strip the fun out of the game and make it just another teaching tool—more work. This is the last thing that is needed by much of today's teens. Workaholism is epidemic among students (soccer, with many games at 8 a.m. on Sunday mornings, must be the nation's fastest-growing religion), and youth ministers aren't exactly the best role models for how to take time away from work, as our high burnout rate so clearly indicates.
And how many Christians do you know who are so serious that you feel like they probably haven't smiled in years? Playful interaction seems like an inconvenience to them, and anything that isn't driven by a purpose is extraneous and not worth the time. We're supposed to be a community of joy and grace, yet somewhere along the line, we've become a community of programs and work ethic. So we need to remember that we should have fun, because God commands us to rest from work—to break the pattern of work and thereby break the grip that work holds on our daily lives, on our schedules, and on our minds. When that grip is broken, God reaches in and takes hold.
Recreation as Re-creation
If fun opens the door for God to take hold, then it's more than merely a rest from work. This recreation is also re-creation: By increasing our interaction with God (through our rejoicing, celebrating, and observing the Sabbath), the act of having fun opens us up to receiving the restorative love of God. The rest that is afforded by spending time rejoicing and celebrating can nurture us and replenish our souls. In this way, God can re-create the spirit within us and water the arid soil left in our souls after a long week of work. It's restorative to take time set apart from the constant pressures of work, school, or other daily pressures and simply enjoy God's creation.
Fun can allow us to experience God's revelations. By creating a time that's separate and distinct from daily routines, we create a space where God speaks to us. In experiencing the joy of God's creation, we lay down the baggage that we carry with us throughout the week. This allows us to lose ourselves in the moment, wherein God speaks to us without the clutter we bring to the discussion. Artists and athletes alike speak of the sublime state of being lost in the moment, entering a state wherein we come into contact with a grace beyond ourselves. This state, whether it's playfully or prayerfully entered into or simply received because we leave ourselves open to it by forgetting to throw up our defenses, has potential to be the holy ground of receiving God's self-disclosure.
Having fun is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, it's a valuable gift from God, a Christian practice worthy of our devoted time. As we enter into it, we should perceive it as more than just fluff time, but rather as a time for opening ourselves to God's revelations, a time for keeping the Sabbath, and a time for rejoicing in the joy of God—a time to say “thank you, Daddy.”
©2003 Youth Specialties
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