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Putting Childish Things Behind Me

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?

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At 9:21 AM , Blogger sewinggeek said…

Alot of our joy in life is sucked out of us when we stop putting the fun out of our lives. We grow up and we think that to be adults we have to be "serious". Work is "serious" business. When we exclude the simply child like joys of life we crush our sprits. It is a hard balance to teach our children to become adults. To leave behind the self centeredness of childhood - thinking only about themselves and not to crush the simple joys of childhood. The wonder of nature, downtime, creating just for the sake of creating. I love having young children over so I can still play and see the wonder of their world. I love the times when I bring silliness into the serious world of my young adult children, gathering with friends to have a laugh, playing in my craft sewing room, going on Serve missions with young teens. So much of our life can be a chore when we do not allow the simple joys to come through and make out adult world so intense.
We have enough things in our life which are serious to deal with that we need to remember the rules of childhood. Play nice and share. Life would be alot simpler if we learned this. Oh yeah Jesus knew what he was saying... Love one another as you would love your self...(paraphrase)
I love your blog. I am happy that you even do when you feel like you don't want to!
I am not sure if my comments are agreeing with you or disagreeing with you.... lol
I guess we have to give up the "childishness" of our childhood ways but not forget child like awe and joy of Gods world.
Have a great day!


At 9:34 AM , Blogger Renee said…

Thanks for your post, Sheila. It has given me something to ponder. I have known that "fun" is very important to me. I hadn't thought about what the definition of "fun" is.


At 9:51 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Sewing Geek: You're totally right about the childlike joy in life, and I certainly don't mean to say that we should lose that! I think we should have it.

I guess what I mean is that sometimes we forget that that childlike joy can come in all forms. I often picture Thomas Edison, trying to make that lightbulb. To some extent he must have felt that childlike joy when it finally worked, and when he reached a major milestone. It was FUN or he wouldn't have done it so much.

Often the childlike joy I have is in trying to figure out what colours go together in a new sweater I'm knitting, or in just making a meal. I don't think of these things as work.

If we could just see the joy in everyday things, I think life would be a lot better, instead of bemoaning the fact that fun is over!

And Renee, glad you stopped by!


At 10:23 AM , Blogger HomeEdUKMum said…

Great Article Sheila! I really love your definition of fun. I love baking for my family & friends, especially their favourite cakes & buns. I also love housework... I know that's probably very sad :-) but I do get enjoyment & satisfaction from having a tidy & organised home for my hubby & son. I will be viewing my household chores differently i.e. fun, though I'm not quite so sure that will stretch to cleaning the toilet. :-) Hope you have a lovely day - Liz


At 10:59 AM , Blogger Tessa said…

I can relate to teh feeling of satisfaction when I've got my housework to do list done for the day but I'm not sure that I particularily would say I have "fun" doing it. But I love playing games with my hubby and an LOVE to read (somehow I always manage to find time for that!) and I thinks it's a lot of fun to sit with a book on the couch and watch my son play all around me. Some of the most fun I have is watching him have fun. I also find it very fun to go out for coffee with a friend or even go for a playdate. I agree that the older I've gotten, fun has changed but I still have a lot of it.

It's really nice to focus on how I have fun. My husband.... well he has fun scraping corrals clean and hauling manure because he get's to use the big machinery and get paid to do it lol! Fun really does come in all forms. And life is so much better when you choose a career path that you enjoy instead of whatever will make you the biggests bucks right away.


At 3:03 PM , Blogger Michelle said…

I've started cleaning listening to old music and dancing around and singing at the top of my head. My kids think I've lost my head, but I'm making something that could be so dull and boring fun. It's the perspective we give to the things in our lives. I hope that I'm teaching this to my daughter who accused me one day of teaching her to be a mom while I taught her how to put her laundry away. Isn't being a mom fun? :)


At 4:44 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I have to admit I wondered with your previous post on the subject if you were advocating putting an end to things children/teenagers enjoy in order to make them "grow up."

I think it's okay even for adults to do things that are simply fun. Not that one shouldn't take joy and/or satisfaction in work (I feel, at least for me, it would be flippant to consider my professional work "fun"). It is good to take a break from the streses of life sometimes and do something because one enjoys it.

Nurse Bee

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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