Guest Post: Nancy Owens Franson

Cadence and Ayden, Playing. May, 2009.

My friend Nancy Franson writes funny, true, wise stories, then she wraps them all up in a big God package for you to carry through the day. What better way to start your week? Usually you’ll find her writing at Out of My Alleged MindI’m so happy to host her here today. Enjoy!

“Did you ever play mumbley-peg?”

My husband and I were sitting around a table enjoying after-dinner conversation with friends when the discussion turned to games we had played as children.

Mumbley-peg, my friend explained, was a game played with pocket knives. Each player would throw a knife into the ground, attempting to stick it as close to his own foot as possible. My friend’s wife and I just looked at each other and shook our heads.

The guys continued to compare notes about pastimes they’d enjoyed as children. They mentioned Buck Buck, a game made popular in one of Bill Cosby’s comedy routines. The goal of this game is for members of one team to climb onto the backs of the other until their collective weight causes the supporting team to collapse. In his routine, Cosby introduced Fat Albert as “the baddest Buck Buck breaker in the world.”

My husband told stories about his childhood buddies shooting BBs at one another from their bedroom windows. They had also invented a game involving tall weeds which they pulled from the ground to lob at one another. The trick, he said, was to yank out a weed with a substantial root ball covered in dirt. Those made the greatest impact when smacking an opponent, he said.

I continue to be astonished that any boys make it out of childhood alive.

For my part, I have to admit that some of the childhood games I used to play may have been equally as ill-advised and dangerous. Does anyone else remember Jarts? I have fond memories of backyard games in which my friends and I launched plastic lawn darts with sharp metal points in the general direction of one another. I also remember being completely shocked to learn that the government had banned the sale of Jarts after this simple childhood toy had been the cause of multiple deaths.

I remember the day when, during third grade recess, I was sent home from school after attempting to perform a flip off the top of the monkey bars. While wearing mittens. My teacher summoned the older McGintey girl from upstairs in the sixth grade class to walk me home, wads of gauze stuffed into each of my nostrils.

My generation criticizes the current one and, I think, often rightfully so for not getting out into the big wide world and risking its dangers. Current definitions of play, I fear, are too often limited to activities performed by one’s thumbs on an electronic device. Or, ideas about recreation have become extreme, demanding from children a year-long commitment to a single sport; practices for which eclipse any notions of Sabbath and rest.

God invites us into the Sabbath because it’s something he built into it from the beginning. We rest because God rested and delighted in all that he made. And when I rest from my work, the Type-A/control freak in me is allowed to enjoy the simple reminder that the universe will not explode if I stop for a day. God is in charge of it; I’m not.

An additional gift of the Sabbath is that it presents an opportunity to rethink and reorder not only my ideas about work, but also those concerning recreation and play. Sabbath is intended to give the believer a foretaste of eternal delight and rest. And too often, I think, my play has been self-indulgent or simply a means of wasting time. I can use recreation as a distraction; a diversion to anesthetize me from the cares of this life, rather than embrace it as a good gift from God.

One of my favorite illustrations about what heaven will be like comes from the book of Zechariah. In his description of the New Jerusalem, the prophet said:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Zechariah 8:4, 5 ESV

These verses suggest to me that God is a fan of joy and play, the kind which refreshes mind, body, and soul. These things were his ideas in the first place. Zechariah’s words also suggest that play will continue in some form throughout eternity. The image which comes to mind in these verses is one of summer days filled with carefree childlike play–the barefoot, running-through-sprinklers kind that lasted from sun-up until fireflies came out at night.

Except in heaven, where there is no night, these joys will continue throughout endless days. And there will be no cause to fear deadly flying projectiles, nor need for gauze bandages.