Play Often

Proverbs 24:13-14

First Baptist Church Laurens

June 22, 2014

You might recall that last fall we offered a study for adults on Sunday nights of a book called Dangerous Wonder. Dangerous Wonder was written a number of years ago by a man named Mike Yaconelli. Yaconelli is now deceased but for a number of years he was a leading voice in ministry with students. He was also a bit of a lone voice from time to time who liked to push believers and their thinking.

I admired Yaconelli and I have enjoyed Dangerous Wonder both times I have read it. As you likely heard me say a couple of times during our promotion of the study, the book focuses on human characteristics that are often associated with our childhood years. What Yaconelli suggested is that in each case the common suggestion of society is that as we grow older we should grow out of these behaviors like dependence, imagination or being a dreamer. Yaconelli, however, argued that we would actually be better off if we continued to embrace these characteristics well into adulthood. He claimed that to do so would make our lives fuller and our faith lives richer too. One of these areas which he said we should continue to foster into adulthood is making time for play. (Dangerous Wonder, Mike Yaconelli, Navpress, 2003. Pages 71-90)

Now, let me be clear that Yaconelli’s suggestion is not a license to be irresponsible, immature or to throw all reason and caution to the wind. But, his point was to suggest that play, which allows us to enjoy life, to laugh and to grow closer to each other through shared, fun experiences, is important and an equally important quality for believers.

Confessionally, I had never thought about this until I read Yaconelli . But, I have come to believe that he is right and I think the idea is worth our time and consideration. I think it is also in keeping with our text for today.

Proverbs 24 verses 13-14 are an interesting corner of this wonderful book. Most commentators immediately connect the verses with each other and I think that is accurate and I want to connect them a little later this morning. At the same time, I want to suggest to us that verse 13 is also valuable on its own even though at first glance it may sound a bit odd when read by itself. Again, here is what verse 13 says, “Eat honey, for it is good — and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste.”

Now again, at first glance, this sounds like a statement for the Food Network or from Cooking Light magazine more than a statement for Sunday morning worship, but, let me unpack it for us for just a moment.

As Carol shared with us to begin our service, honey has long been a critical ingredient in our enjoyment of food. But, it is also true to say that honey was far more important and valuable as a commodity during the Biblical times than today. Today there is sugar — processed, raw and brown. There are also artificial sweeteners — Sweet n Low, Equal, Splenda and Truvia, among others. Likewise today there are countless other spices and additives that enhance the quality and enjoyment of our food.

But, in biblical times, things were much more limited and thus honey, which was easy to come by, was much more crucial. Simply said, honey regularly helped otherwise bland or perhaps tasteless food to be much, much more satisfying.

Metaphorically speaking, we all also need ingredients like honey in our lives. Let’s be honest, life is often tough, life is sometimes difficult and thus what life often brings our way is very, very hard to swallow. Likewise, sometimes life is mundane, monotonous and bland. In turn, we all need to have things in our lives that provide sweetness. Play, I think, for children and adults, is one of those things. Play, helps us to daily add sweetness to the dullness and honey to that which is hard to stomach.

I think this happens in two basic ways. On the one hand, this happens in a very personal way as play helps us as individuals to laugh when we are sad and to find joy when we feel hopeless. Simply stated play helps us to celebrate and to see that God’s world is good and that God wants us to enjoy our lives.

I read a fascinating story not long ago about a man named Ron Jones. Back in World War II, Mr. Jones was a prisoner in one of the smaller Concentration camps that bordered the famous Auschwitz camp in Poland. Jones is now 96 and was recently interviewed for an article about his role as the soccer goalie on one of the prison camp soccer teams that existed during those days. You heard me right, the prison camp soccer team at Auschwitz. In the interview, Jones said, “under the conditions we lived under, it was a real pleasure to play football (soccer) on Sunday” afternoons. In an awful, horrific time in their lives, soccer brought them joy. Playing reminded them that by the grace of God there were things they could find joy in. Soccer was the honey for their tasteless lives. (The Auschwitz Goalkeeper, The Mail Online, 4 October, 2013)

Today, I am defining play very, very broadly to mean those things that we do just for the joy of doing them whether it is a sport, a hobby, an activity like photography or working crossword puzzles. Whatever it is, we need to do them and we need to do them often for they remind us that life and abundant life are gifts from God in the midst of life’s stresses and heartaches. We need to do them because for each of us, those things are the honey in our lives. They help us to digest the other parts of our days that fill us with anxiety, worry and stress. They help us to relax, rejuvenate and to put life back into proper perspective.

At the same time and on the other hand, play is also a critical component in our ability to first share joy in general and then to share the joy of God in particular with others. Let me go back to Mike Yaconelli for a moment. In Dangerous Wonder, Yaconelli tells about two neighbor boys with whom he and his wife were never able to connect or build a relationship. That is until one night when they decided to take a few firecrackers left over from the Fourth of July and sneak over near where they boys were playing a basketball game. While the boys continued to play basketball, Yaconelli and his wife set off the fireworks which scarred the boys to death. It also made them smile and then want to retaliate. Ultimately that moment of fun broke the ice for the building of relationships that would have likely never happened otherwise. (Dangerous Wonder, Mike Yaconelli, Navpress, 2003. Pages 76-77)

The truth is that many of us already do this even if we do it subconsciously. We play catch with our grandchildren. We play Xbox with our teenagers. We go to the beach for a girls weekend with our grown daughters and go fishing with our grown sons. Likewise at church, we play softball, have picnics, go to the Greenville Drive game and decorate our trunks for Halloween. Why? Because those activities help us to build relationships and share joy with others and they pave the way for us to also bring the joy of knowing God into those same relationships.

I said at the beginning that most commentators connect verse 13 and verse 14. The sweetness of honey is an illustration of the way wisdom is also sweet. There is another way of connecting though and that is to say that sharing the sweetness of life like play is what leads to our sharing the sweetness of God’s wisdom. One honey leads to the other.

Let me end with this. This past week it was a joy for me to go with our High Schoolers to Beach Camp. It was a great week and it really was beach camp in that we were literally a block from the ocean at Garden City Beach here in our beautiful state of South Carolina. Every afternoon we had time to play on the beach. Time to swim, throw the football and frisbee, read a book, look for sea shells or relax in the sun. Every afternoon, it was time to play. It was the best week of work I’ve had in a long time.

On Thursday Morning, Burton Allen and I were walking off the beach. It was early and we had just finished a long walk which we enjoyed every day. As we exited there was a huge group of students gathered with their youth minister. I didn’t know what they were doing so early in the morning and so I asked. They were baptizing students who had made professions of faith the night before in our worship service.

Do you see it, playing together on that sand had led to relationships that allowed for the joy of God to be shared and to be embraced on that same beach. The play had helped lead to professions of faith. The play time was not a waste of time as some might think or suggest. Rather, it was essential to experiencing joy and ultimately to experiencing the joy of God. Amen.