THE JOYFUL CHRISTIAN LIFE #2
From the book
THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION
by Rene Brown
Cultivating Play and Rest
LETTING GO OF EXHAUSTION AS A STATUS SYMBOL AND PRODUCTIVITY AS SELF-WORTH
At times, when I was interviewing people for my research, I felt like an alien—like a visitor trying to figure out the customs and habits of people living lives that looked incredibly different from mine. There were many awkward moments when I struggled to understand what they, the Wholehearted, were doing and why. Sometimes the concepts were so foreign to me that I didn't have the language to name them. This was one of those times.
I remember telling one of my colleagues, "These Wholehearted people fool around a lot." She laughed and asked, "Fool around? How?"
I shrugged, "I don't know. They have fun and ... I don't know what you call it. They hang out and do fun things."
She looked confused. "Like what kind of fun things? Hobbies? Crafts? Sports?"
"Yes," I replied. "Kinda like that but not so organized. I'm going to have to dig around some more."
Now I look back on that conversation and think, How did I not know what I was seeing? Was I so personally removed from this concept that I couldn't recognize it?
A critically important component of Wholehearted living is play!
I came to this realization by watching my children and recognizing the same playful behaviors in them that were described by the men and women I interviewed. These folks play.
Researching the concept of play got off to a rocky start. I learned this very quickly: Do not Google "Adult play." I was closing pornography pop-ups so fast it was like playing Whac-A-Mole.
Once I recovered from that search disaster, I was lucky enough to find the work of Dr. Stuart Brown. Dr. Brown is a psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and founder of the National Institute for Play. He is also the author of a wonderful book titled, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.
Drawing on his own research, as well as the latest advances in biology, psychology, and neurology, Brown explains that play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation.
If you're wondering why play and rest are paired together in this guidepost, it's because after reading the research on play, I now understand that play is as essential to our health and functioning as rest.
So, if you're like me, you want to know, "What exactly is play?" Brown proposes seven properties of play, the first of which is that play is apparently purposeless. Basically this means that we play for the sake of play. We do it because it's fun and we want to.
Well, this is where my work as a shame researcher comes in. In today's culture—where our self-worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worthiness on our level of productivity—spending time doing purposeless activities is rare. In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.
We've got so much to do and so little time that the idea of spending time doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress. We convince ourselves that playing is a waste of precious time. We even convince ourselves that sleep is a terrible use of our time.
We've got to get 'er done! It doesn't matter if our job is running a multimillion-dollar company, raising a family, creating art, or finishing school, we've got to keep our noses to the grindstone and work! There's no time to play around!
But Brown argues that play is not an option. In fact he writes, "The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression." He explains, "Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play."
What's shocking is the similarity between the biological need for play and our body's need for rest, a topic that also emerged as a major theme in Wholehearted living. It seems that living and loving with our whole hearts requires us to respect our bodies' need for renewal. When I first researched the ideas of rest, sleep, and sleep debt—the term for not getting enough—I couldn't believe some of the consequences of not getting proper rest.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression. We're also learning that drowsy driving can be as dangerous—and as preventable—as driving while intoxicated. Yet, somehow many of us still believe that exhaustion is a status symbol of hard work and that sleep is a luxury. The result is that we are so very tired. Dangerously tired.
The same gremlins that tell us we're too busy to play and waste time fooling around are the ones that whisper:
* “One more hour of work! You can catch up on your sleep this weekend.”
* “Napping is for slackers.”
* “Push through. You can handle it.”
But the truth is, we can't handle it. We are a nation of exhausted and overstressed adults raising over-scheduled children. We use our spare time to desperately search for joy and meaning in our lives. We think accomplishments and acquisitions will bring joy and meaning, but that pursuit could be the very thing that's keeping us so tired and afraid to slow down.
If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.
Making the choice to rest and play is, at best, counterculture. The decision to let go of exhaustion and productivity as badges of honor made total sense to Steve and me, but putting Wholeheartedness into practice has been a struggle for our entire family.
Steve and I sat down in 2008 and made a practical list of the things that make our family work. We basically answered the question, "When things are going really well in our family, what does it look like?" The answers included sleep, working out, healthy food, cooking, time off, weekends away, going to church, being present with the kids, a sense of control over our money, meaningful work that doesn't consume us, time to piddle, time with family and close friends, and time to just hang out. These were (and are) our "ingredients for joy and meaning."
Then we looked at the dream list that we started making a couple of years ago (and keep adding to). Everything on this list was an accomplishment or an acquisition—a house with more bedrooms, a trip here, personal salary goals, professional endeavors, and so forth. Everything required that we make more money and spend more money.
When we compared our dream list to our "joy and meaning" list, we realized that by merely letting go of the list of things we want to accomplish and acquire, we would be actually living our dream—not striving to make it happen in the future, but living it right now. The things we were working toward did nothing in terms of making our life fuller.
Embracing our "joy and meaning" list has not been easy. There are days when it makes perfect sense, and then there are days when I get sucked into believing how much better everything would feel if we just had a really great guest room or a better kitchen, or if I got to speak here or write an article for that popular magazine.
Even Ellen has had to make some changes. Last year, we told her that we were going to limit her extracurricular activities and that she would have to make choices between multiple sports and Girl Scouts and after-school activities. At first there was some resistance. She pointed out that she did fewer things than most of her friends. This was true. She has many friends who are in two or three sports every semester and take music lessons and language lessons and art classes. These kids wake up at 6 a.m. and go to bed at 10 p.m.
We explained that the "cutting down" was part of a larger family plan. I had decided to go part-time at the university, and her dad was going to a four-day workweek. She looked at us as if she were bracing for bad news. She asked, "Is anything wrong?"
We explained that we wanted more downtime. More time to hang out and take it easy. After we swore that we weren't sick, she got excited and asked, "Are we making time for more TV?"
I explained, "No. Just more family play time. Your dad and I love our work, but it can be very demanding. I travel and have writing deadlines; your dad has to be on call. You also work hard at your schoolwork. We want to make sure that we schedule in downtime for all of us."
While this experience may sound great, it was terrifying for me as a parent. What if I'm wrong? What if busy and exhausted is what it takes? What if she doesn't get to go to the college of her choice because she doesn't play the violin and speak Mandarin and French and she doesn't play six sports?
What if we're normal and quiet and happy? Does that count?
I guess the answer to this is only yes if it counts to us. If what matters to us is what we're concerned about, then play and rest is important. If what matters to us is what other people think or say or value, then it's back to exhaustion and producing for self-worth.
Today, I choose play and rest.
Get Deliberate: One of the best things that we've ever done in our family is making the "ingredients for joy and meaning" list. I encourage you to sit down and make a list of the specific conditions that are in place when everything feels good in your life. Then check that list against your to-do list and your to-accomplish list. It might surprise you.
Get Inspired: I'm continually inspired by Stuart Brown's work on play and Daniel Pink's book A Whole New Mind. If you want to learn more about the importance of play and rest, read these books.
Get Going: Say no today. Buck the system. Take something off your list and add "take a nap."
How do you DIG Deep?
INDEED HAVING TIME TO “PLAY” IS A MUST, AS IMPORTANT AS THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF SLEEP (EXPERTS SAY 8 TO 9 HOURS A DAY). FOR A JOYFUL LIFE YOU HAVE TO HAVE TIME TO PUT EVERYTHING TO THE SIDE, AND TAKE TIME TO PLAY. AND PLAY IS ANYTHING (OF COURSE WITHIN GOD’S LAW) YOU GET JOY IN DOING. PLAY LIKE SLEEP IS A WAY TO RECHARGE YOUR BATTERIES AS THEY SAY.
SO IF YOU HAVE NOT YET DONE SO, SIT DOWN AND FIGURE OUT WHAT THING/S YOU CAN ENTHUSIASTICALLY PLAY AT, AND MAKE SURE YOU TAKE TIME TO INDULGE; PLAY IS A PART OF THE SPICE OF LIFE AT ITS BEST.