A Play Date with God

May 23 / Kimberley Mulder
The taste of summer is sweetening as spring ripens. The kids are chomping at the bit, and I find most adults are too. The draw of play and rest are especially strong this season, it seems. I've noticed in all spaces—social, personal, public, and spiritual—there's a persistent rumble hungering for fun and celebration.

My daughter repeatedly turns to memes of off-the-wall humor instead of homework, friends sigh with resignation and fatigue at their making-ends-meet days, and the media creaks and splinters under the weight of deep discontent, grief, and brokenness.

Where does this longing lead us?

Levity, curiosity, and play all have a significant place in our formation as children of God. The Bible clearly portrays us as children belonging to God. When we feel that belonging, we have room to be our whole selves—silly, serious, child, and adult. But when our sense of belonging is challenged, we often lock into a coping mode that neglects some aspects of ourselves. Many of us have been #adulting all the time through this pandemic.

Often in an effort to faithfully love well— entering Christ's sufferings with others, mourning with those who mourn—we lose our childlikeness. Eventually, our adulting skills are confronted face to face with our arms-crossed, frowning inner child that doesn't want to do this anymore. With a stomp, our inner child says, "I want to play!" To which our compassionate God answers, "Sure, what shall we play together?" God knows this longing is a seed of the divine, pushing against its tight hull, and wanting some air. Tending it will bring life.

Ironically, it was during the years my children were very little that I lost my desire to be a child. I still had it; I just couldn’t find it. I remember hearing from other mothers how having children gave them an excuse to play—they glowed with fulfillment. I, on the other hand, found it very difficult to play with the kids. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be childlike, just that many of the things I liked were difficult to do with very young kids. The few that I could do with them I dove into with a fearful tenacity, as if my life depended on it.

I didn’t realize it then, but my life did depend on it.

Those delights kept me sure of the goodness of God, kept me connected, kept me comforted in an otherwise dull and difficult season. I was easily overwhelmed with all the nitty gritty care of these wee ones—it was a laundry list of “shoulds” and “musts” that thrust my exhausted spirit into serious #adulting.

When we do the things that make us feel like a child again, we feel that someone good and loving and greater than us is caring for us. When we hide or ignore our desire to be like a child, we miss connection to our greatest caregiver, the God who made us, welcomes us, and parents us.

If you recognize these dynamics in you, then consider what gives you delight. Ask God to show you God’s presence and invitation in play. What makes you feel awkward but curious?

What helped me out of my difficult season was rediscovering childlike delight. Things like cross-country skiing (which is definitely awkward!), reading The Lord of the Rings, and exploring a new park. As I did those things, I sensed that God was there, enjoying them with me. Sometimes the sense was overwhelming, and I would weep.

Release and surrender were the gifts of these delighting, play-filled times. Slowly but surely, I was warmed and reassured of my God's care until it was no longer a rare feeling or a struggling belief.

Had I continued on in my very great responsibilities I would have drifted further and further from the experience and knowledge of God’s care – not that it would have actually been gone, but I would not have known it. I would have remained desperately hungry. In my "hangry" state, I'd try to do more and more on my own, becoming indiscriminate and selfish because I longed to feel cared for but wasn't experiencing it. Play is a safe place to practice trust and reconnect with the reality that God really is caring for us.

Look for things that make you feel alive, even juvenile! These are things that pull you away from watching the tock of the clock, where time disappears in the wonder of it all. The “shoulds” and “have-to’s” evaporate. It may feel selfish initially, but I encourage you to gently turn back to Jesus as you exercise the trust that God is "an adult" in charge of all the important and heavy things.

Listen for the longing in you—perhaps this is the season for you to step onto the playground with God.

Kimberley Mulder

Kimberley Mulder is a certified Spiritual Director who is patiently pursuing an MDiv at Portland Seminary. It brings her great joy to tether your soul to Jesus’ great love; to give you sacred space and listening attention as a director; and tools, ideas, and God-given words as a writer.
The outdoors is always calling her name, you can find her exploring, gardening, and taking pictures anywhere outside of four walls (some of which make their way on to Instagram @writerkimberleymulder and Facebook @kimberleymulderwriter). Her husband and three kids journey with her, adding purpose, delight, and depth to her one and precious life.