During a week of vacation this summer, I took my kids to a creek near their grandparent’s house. While my wife was with our older kids, I sat with my almost-two-year-old son on the creek bed and threw rocks into the water with him. His main objectives were to see how big of a splash he could make with the rocks and to see how big of a rock he could pick up all by himself. I would help him un-wedge a rock from the sediment. He would take the rock and throw it as best as he could and then look for my reaction. I would encourage him, and then we’d both laugh together. We were both totally content just being with each other.
As an Enneagram type 3, I’m usually very achievement-oriented. As a pastor, one of my greatest sources of joy in ministry is helping the church to see a vision for the future and celebrating our progress as we reach the benchmarks in pursuit of that future. I value progress and results. I think it’s one of my greatest strengths as a church leader. I also think it has a shadow-side that can undermine my leadership and ministry to the church if I’m not careful. I can tie too much of my own identity into my pursuit of a goal, so that I feel like my personhood is reflected by my productivity.
Spending time with my kids during a moment of play reminds me that some of the most important moments in life have nothing to do with productivity or achievement. I wasn’t evaluating my son’s progress during our time at the creek. I wasn’t measuring the weight of his rocks or the distance of his throws. I was enjoying seeing his curiosity about the new things his body could do and his wonder about the creek. My love for him is based on nothing more than his existence. Isn’t this like the doctrine of grace? Our salvation and our relationship to God is based on nothing more than God’s unconditional love for us (Ephesians 2:8-9). Sharing moments of play are good for both my kids and for me. It helps them to feel a secure based in their most foundational relationship, which is not only good for their emotional, psychological and social health, it also helps them to have a healthy God concept. Not only does it help me grow my love for them, but it also helps me to connect with my inner child who is still trying to learn the lessons of childhood. Specifically, it reminds me that my value and worth as a person are not connected to my achievements, my productivity or my progress at work. My value and worth as a person are in my existence alone.
If we look around our churches and around our communities, we will undoubtedly observe lots of work that needs to be done. Let’s not neglect keeping our hands to the plow. Let’s not forget that God’s mercy and justice are communicated to the world through the church. But our actions as church leaders communicate what we believe about God to the congregations we lead. So let’s also not forget that God’s radical acceptance and love are also communicated through the church. Let’s not forget that we are made in the image of the God who is called “I am” not “I do.” As you remember to do God’s work, don’t forget to play.