I must hear that a couple hundred times a day. Sometimes, I’m ready to play, and it’s tickle fights, wrestling matches, Avengers figures, cars and trucks until we can’t stand it any longer. Other times, I’m not so ready to play, and I try to beg off. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you can relate.
But lately, I’ve noticed something. When Jon says “Play with me”, he’s using the word play in an entire different way. In fact, it may be an entirely different word.
I hear play and I think interaction, me and him using our imaginations to create scenarios and worlds where the toys we use and the time we share transport us together into another place. But it’s a separate togetherness: we each act independently within the game, each one doing what we imagine our characters should do. I think play, and it’s really all about collective yet distinct imaginative effort. Me and him as two.
When Jon says play, it’s less about imagination or collaborative effort. It’s more about him doing what he wants to do while I sit in the same room with him. Sometimes he’ll hand me a truck and tell me where to drive it. Other times he forgets I’m even there. The only thing he really needs is for me to remain physically present; my mind can be a thousand miles away as long as he can still use my arms as bridges and my belly as a mountain. I am another toy for him to use.
It’s ugly, but sometimes I get frustrated by this kind of play. My son has some cool toys, and the idea of just running the same four trucks over my stomach for an hour and a half makes me feel a little…I dunno, bored maybe? I want to line up action figures and trucks and Lego castles and create our own fantastic battles and worlds. I understand on a deeper level what play can really be, and I want to explore that deeper level.
My son, who’s only four, doesn’t get that yet. So he’s content to play at his level, happy to have a few small toys and a daddy who will simply sit with him for as long as he needs. He doesn’t know what he’s missing because he hasn’t learned there’s anything to miss. Developmentally, he’s right on schedule and I have to stop and remind myself that, as his father, I have to work with him where he’s at and gently expand his world a little bit at a time.
I bring all this up because it’s sort of where I’m at with God right now. For a long time, I’ve been content to play at my level, which is to do what I want to do while having the security of His presence. But God’s been gently expanding my world; He’s calling me out into places of much deeper meaning and discovery, not because I’m special, but because He has something He wants to show me. I still want to play with a couple of trucks.
He wants to help me build worlds.
Like my son, I’ve been content to just do my thing. But also like my son, I’ve learned to put my hand into my daddy’s and let Him lead me into something else. It requires trust and faith that He won’t lead me into situations where I’ll be hurt; it requires me loving Him enough to surrender to something that stretches me, pushes the envelope of what I think I can do. And when I find I’m at my limit, He lovingly picks me up into His arms and lets me rest, reassuring me that we’ve done enough for the day.
Sometimes, I worry about what other people might think of what He’s teaching me. But He doesn’t. And I trust Him.
Because He loves me.