How to Break Up with Your Anxious Life
Meeting the Need for Fun, Part One
“Calvin, go do something you hate. Being miserable builds character.”
-Calvin, impersonating his dad, in “Calvin and Hobbes”
This Saturday I decided it was too hot to go to the beach with my family, usually my go-to fun activity. So, I sent my husband and daughter off on their own, and stayed home in the air conditioning to do one of my other favorite, restorative things: sew in my kitchen.
Sewing is one of my forms of play, especially making things I don’t need to make. I have a Pinterest board called “unnecessary craftiness” for just such projects. These projects are my rebel yell in world of scarcity, economy and utility; it’s the art-for-art’s-sake aspect that makes it a replenishing activity. But this weekend, I made two errors in my “fun” time: First, like a little one-woman factory, I made thirty coffee cozies to sell at speaking engagements, rather than something for myself (see below). And second, instead of blasting my favorite tunes, I listened to podcasts. It was not the day of play I needed.
I’ve recently discovered The Holy Post, hosted by Phil Vischer, formerly of Veggie Tales, a guy who gets the holiness of silliness if anyone does. The episode I listened to on Saturday started with the story of a man who broke the world record for the longest float down a river – in a hollowed out pumpkin. It made me want to do something ridiculous, in a good way. But the rest of the podcast was of the deep theological and political variety. And so instead of being present to my fabric collection and my own nimble fingers with the thread, I got intellectually worked up about the world’s problems.
A couple of my friends are giggling at me right now, because angst-ridden wrestling seems to be my new addiction, that latest in a long line of compulsive behaviors. Common to all these behaviors is my resistance to just relax and play.
Y’all, we need play. We were created for it. Play connects us to the heart of God, though we might not have been taught that. Many of us see our Heavenly Father as Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes saw his father. In one of my favorite comics ever, Calvin puts on his dad’s glasses and does an impression: “Calvin, go do something you hate. Being miserable builds character.”
Suffering certainly does have the potential to build character, but so does pleasure. Our ability to enjoy the world God put us in may actually reflect God’s divine nature more than sacrifice and struggle.
In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard talks about God’s delight as an ongoing part of His character:
Undoubtedly, he [God] is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.
God has a great sense of humor and whimsy: Look at pictures of animals that live in Australia for examples. He also lives in an economy of excess: consider the creatures that live in the depths of the ocean. Earth’s environment didn’t need this many species of fish to survive in harmony. It was for His own pleasure that He created these wondrous and weird things. It was, in fact, for pleasure, that God created wondrous and weird you. So it stands to reason that for you to do what brings you joy, for its own sake, brings him joy, too.
In the movie Chariots of Fire, Scottish runner and missionary Eric Liddel gets in a debate with his sister about the moral merits of delaying his days in the mission field in order to compete in the Olympics. In a moment of resounding clarity he says, “God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” God’s pleasure, not Olympic medals, seem to be what made running worthwhile.
I hate to run, but I feel God’s pleasure when I’m sewing. I know that sounds weird! But I think seeing me use my gifts in a whimsical way delights him. I feel God’s pleasure when I’m dancing, even back when I was shaking my posterior -– not typically seen as a spiritual part of the body -- in my Zumba class, pre-pandemic. I feel God’s pleasure when I swim in the ocean, when I take walks, when I tend my garden, when I play Taboo with a group of friends, when I attend a rock concert or just listen to my music – loud – in my car or the house. And feeling God’s pleasure co-mingle with my own is absolutely necessary to my spiritual and mental health.
Here's what does not count as play: Cleaning the house. Running errands. Crossing things off the to-do list. Home improvement projects. Reading the news. Listening to a podcast. These are satisfying and necessary activities. But they are not the same as play or fun, because they are not an indulgence, a message to the mind, heart, and soul that we can have more than we need.
Ironically, I gained some insight about play while listening to another podcast in my car on my way to see a friend. I love Sarah and Beth on Pantsuit Politics; they are one of the places I go when I have no one to talk to and need to pretend like I’m having intelligent conversations with people of diverse points of view. Last week they ended a heavy conversation on debt forgiveness talking about the need for fun and play.
Sarah said she really struggles with the idea of play, because what she really enjoys is mastery. She likes to do things she’s good at; so, she’ll play a game, but she doesn’t want to learn a game. Oh sister, can I relate. But she shared this as a confession, an area she knows she needs to grow. Because play is about letting go of results, of what doing only what is needed and necessary. But play is itself necessary.
So, I didn’t wait to hear the solution the podcast presented. I turned it off, and put on a favorite playlist. Podcasts are not play, and play was what I needed. I turned it up, arriving to my destination feeling refreshed.
Next week: Meeting the Need for Fun, Part Two. What does the Bible say about feasting and fun -- and why do we resist?
P.S. Read about the giant pumpkin guy here. He went 38 miles in a pumpkin. It took him 11 hours. Not my idea of fun, but it definitely speaks to the human need to do something excessive now and then.
Action step for the week:
I took a seminar ten years ago on beating anxiety and depression, in which the teacher challenged us to find a picture of ourselves where we looked filled with joy, and tack it up in our houses to remind us who we really are. Can you do the same this week? Pick a photo of you having fun for your lock screen on your phone if you can’t find a printed photo.
Or, flip through your mental photo album and remember something you used to do that made you feel good about who you are and the world you live in? Can you find a few minutes to do something fun and unnecessary this week.