We are not meant to be “perpetually solemn,” according to C.S. Lewis. “We must play.”
This is something children understand instinctively. They don’t even have to be reminded to play. They just do. Part of growing up is realizing that there are times you shouldn’t be playing, of course, but part of growing up ought to be remembering that there are times we should!
The spirit of play is part of the creativity of rest. Little kids get out of breath. They get flush cheeks. They come falling into the door at dinnertime after a long afternoon playing in the neighborhood smelling like little puppy dogs. They have skinned knees and grime under their fingernails. There are rocks in their pockets and grass stains on their sleeves. Their hair is messy and their eyes are wide. It’s hard work playing so well. They cannot wait to get back outside and do it all again. This is all so God-glorifyingly beautiful.
The average eight-year-old boy on your block is a little Michelangelo of play. Take his toys away, and he will make a tower with the cushions, a battleship with a cardboard box. He will have at you with a wrapping paper tube. (And his little sister throws the most delightful tea parties for invisible royalty the likes of which no fairy tale could ever imagine.)
Why is playing hard so important? Because in our play we create and imagine and therefore tap into the very creative heart of God. We echo his story with our narratives of play. This is why on the playground little boys are playing cops and robbers or doing battle and little girls are playing house. They are vanquishing evil, subduing the earth, building civilization. And because all of this effort reflects the heart of the great Author of everything, their hearts never grow weary of it, even if their bodies do. G. K. Chesterton connects the divine dots for us:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. (Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane, 1908), 108–9.)
So we must rest well by playing hard. We must work hard at resting! The author of Hebrews knows our self-justifying exaltation of works, and he challenges us to channel our efforts into seeing the goodness of pausing:
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest . . . (Heb. 4:9–11)
The author of Hebrews knows that getting us to rest can be difficult. He reveals this in his primary focus—getting us to distrust that our work can merit us salvation. And this holds true through the application—trusting that resting well glorifies God and gives witness to the gospel.
We need to remember to play hard. We need to take having fun seriously. This means remembering to do it, for one thing! It means not thinking of rest, play, or fun as beneath us. But it also means being mindful in our rest, play, and fun that these things are gifts from God meant to help us celebrate being made in God’s image as Creator and project in some way the creative story he is telling with the universe.