I have a new spiritual director: the four year old daughter of a friend who confides her heart to God the way she whispers to her Teddy Bear and the way she giggles when her father whisks her off her feet. I don’t often put “play” and “pray” together in the same sentence; she does. Not that she’d actually say it in those terms, but she acts it in those terms. I use other language to modify my efforts at praying, words like “labor,” “discipline,” “perseverance,” and “pressing through.” For me, talking to God takes the form of a mission of utmost serious business. For my four year old mentor, prayer is simple and pure wonder. I have a lot to learn, and unlearn to discover the “play” in “pray.”
Not easy! Last week I attended a conference hosted by my home church, a Lutheran Church mind you. During an extended time of music and worship someone in the crowd inflated five beach balls and began batting them about. Yes, I said “beach balls” in a worship service in a Lutheran Church! A rush of giddiness broke loose among the 2,500 people present. They began to play through the songs of worship, and the songs thanking God, and the songs asking God to do something. As we prayed we played. And there, in the middle of it all was my friend’s daughter dancing – yes, I said “dancing” in a Lutheran Church – and marching and waving things in the air as if she owned the place. Of course, as a daughter of the True King, she most certainly did own the place.
Jesus said that unless I come to God as a child, a small child, I can’t find my way into his Kingdom. Coming as a child means coming with beach balls, with dancing, with things waved in the air, and with my heart laid bare. Praying as a child means playing as a child. Of course! After all, in light of all eternity we’re all still like tiny children. The sooner we see this and relate to God as we really are – dependent, unpretentious tikes – the better and truer our prayers.
My pray quotient needs the play quotient.
How can you increase your play as you pray? Play is different for everyone. Maybe you play by walking in the woods, or skydiving, or painting a picture, or making music, or making love. Anything pure as play can also become a way to pray, when we focus the fun on and with God! Try it.