My daughter Rebecca likes to tell the story of how sorry she felt for me the Christmas that she was 5. Rebecca opened her presents and received a whole bunch of “groovy girl” dolls from Mommy, and some Barbies from friends. But I didn’t get any dolls. No one gave me Barbies. I had boring old blenders and books and some really nice pots. Rebecca wondered why no one gave me toys.
Children play. They play to learn, and to have fun. In some ways, a child’s work is to play, because in playing they learn how the world works. They think about how relationships are supposed to work, how to build things, how to organize things. In playing they figure out life.
Animals do this, too. When they playfight, they’re practising for real. They’re learning valuable skills that they will need one day.
But there comes a time when the species does not need to play to learn anymore. We adults don’t need dolls or Tonka trucks, though we may still collect them. We don’t sit down on the floor with friends and act out a Barbie & Ken wedding, or set up house for some Polly Pockets, or create an obstacle course for our trucks. We put toys behind us.
It is not, however, because we no longer have fun. It is because other things have become fun.
What is the most fun you have? For me I suppose it depends how one defines fun. I enjoy knitting, and watching the occasional movie, and going for walks. I love playing board games with my family.
But I also find running our youth quizzing program really fun. I love poring over recipe books and coming up with a meal plan for the week. At times, when the urge hits (which I admit is not tremendously often), I even have great fun cleaning up the main floor of our house and purging tons of stuff. I find dropping loads off at thrift stores enormously fun.
I find blogging and speaking and building a little ministry fun, even if at times I have to drag myself out of bed to post for the day.
I find talking with my husband at the end of a long day fun.
The things I find fun, then, often include what people would normally call “work”: meal planning, cleaning, building a business. But they’re still fun because they’re satisfying, and I feel great pride at having accomplished something.
Just as children’s play is really “work” for them, and yet it’s still fun, so our “work” can also be fun.
The problem is that our society does not understand that. We try to prolong this “play” period that children have, thinking that when the play is over, the fun is over. But we forget two things: play is also children’s work, and adult work can also be fun! Children’s play is not simply leisure; it’s an essential part of what they must do in order to grow and become healthy, independent people. In the same way, when we do things that help us to become healthy, independent people, we will also tend to have fun.
But we won’t have that fun if we’re forever griping about the fact that we don’t get to “play” anymore.
My post earlier this week about the appropriate end of childhood touched on some of these issues in the comments, but it boils down to this: While there should always be room for joy and laughter in a life, and work should never crowd those things out, we should never forget that much of the joy and laughter from life appropriately comes from things we normally think of as work.
As we get older, we stop wanting to play with Barbie’s, and we start enjoying dreaming about new businesses to start; new ways to invest our money; new ways to decorate the living room; new crafts to try. These things are not play, but they can be very enjoyable because they combine our innate need for creative outlets, and our need for satisfaction from a job well done.
Work can be fun, if we understand fun to mean an intense feeling of satisfaction, and even a feeling of joy, as we become an active participant in God’s plan for our lives. And what is that plan? To make the world reflect more of Him.
Think of it this way: God is creative. He loves beauty. He loves order. He loves people. As we do things that strengthen families, that bring more beauty to the world (even if it’s just in a repainted kitchen), that cause others to smile or enjoy the beauty around them, we’re bringing more of God into this world. And that is intensely satisfying.
Play always has a role in our lives, whether it’s a church softball league or a family games night or Scrabble with Facebook friends. But adult fun is not limited to play. And, I would argue, adult fun is more intense when it isn’t just about play, but is also about accomplishing something.
When we ask children to take more responsibility, then, or to start growing up, we’re not saying, “the fun is over.” Not at all. Instead, we’re saying fun will now encompsas more of life. It won’t just be about momentary pleasure; it will also be about heart-satisfying work. That’s not something we have to apologize for kids for; it’s something we should be making them look forward to!
As I have watched my own daughters grow into teenagers, I have seen that the things that they find fun often require effort. They study for Bible quizzing. They play the piano and the guitar, sometimes just sitting down to play and sing “for fun”. They write, or create videos, or do a craft. They’re not playing, but they still have fun, because fun is now so much bigger!
There is something magical about a child’s make believe world, and we should not take that from them or force it to end prematurely. But we also should not try to extend “play” as long as possible, giving the impression that it’s all downhill from here, because it’s not. I have so much more fun now than I did as a child, and I hope the same for my children.
Let’s redefine fun. It’s not only about play; it’s about finding satisfaction in meeting life’s challenges and making this place a better world. Isn’t that something to celebrate, rather than to mourn as the ending of childhood?