The Power of Play

I’m enjoying a weekend with my 5 and 3-year-old nephew and niece this weekend on a family getaway.  Some time ago, I had heard an interview with a Doctor who specializes in treating people with “play.”   He literally sets up games and fun things to do for family members to do together that would help them see each other in a different light and heal some of the wounds of their pasts.  I searched this morning to see if I could find this book or link it and the best I could find was the link below, but I don’t think it’s from the same guy I’d heard.  The concept was initially child-based, but there was talk in the interview about how adults even benefit from this type of interaction and begin to heal as well.

I think that is definitely true for me.  I was miserable after the altercation with my daughter and ex-wife that resulted in our separation and divorce.  I spent a sleepless night in a hotel room and an anguished day just trying to understand what had happened and praying almost non-stop, when I wasn’t on the phone.  That night a colleague of mine who lived in the town where I was meeting clients the next day had agreed to have dinner to discuss covering her accounts during her maternity leave.  She called at the last-minute and said she couldn’t make it because she had to watch her 5-year-old step-daughter.  I told her to bring Izzy along and we’d have a great time the three of us.  So she did.

My colleague and I got through most of the work stuff without much of an issue while Izzy colored and kept herself busy.  She kept asking questions of me by raising her hand and I would call on her like she was a student.  “You in the yellow top, with the cute curly hair, yes, did you have a question?”  She got the biggest kick out of that and halfway through the meal she slid under the table and joined me on my side.  We kept talking about school, her friends, her future career (hysterical from a 5-year-old perspective) and just genuinely had fun together.  As I was getting ready to leave I asked if I could have a hug goodbye.  So Izzy backed all the way to the rear wall of the booth and ran full speed the length of the booth and threw herself into my arms.  I caught her and swung her around a bit just grinning ear to ear. Then she did the thing every normal 5-year-old does. ” Can I do it again?”  Four times later her step-mom decided it might be causing a distraction in the restaurant and said it was time to go.  I told Izzy that I was incredibly blessed to get “jump-hugs” because those are always the best kind and went back to my hotel and cried for a half hour.  Not necessarily out of sadness, but because I had literally felt like God had gifted me that dinner to help get me through the ordeal.  I literally felt so blessed.

I think that was mostly due to play.  There is something so freeing and innocent and loving about truly playing with someone.  Whether you’re kicking a ball around or climbing a tree or playing a video game or giving piggy back rides, a child can help us break out of the shell of despondency and the self-doubt and recrimination and emerge on the other side a more well-rounded person.

Sports are a form of this, but can often be waylaid by hyper-competitiveness or unrealistic expectations.  I’ve found in my volleyball games that if I spend the night encouraging every good thing I see from others, we all have such a great time together.  It’s only when someone starts ripping on someone else’s playing ability that people get frustrated.  So sports allows some of this healing, too. I’m not any kind of expert on medical things, but the endorphins released during exercise have similar ability to heal emotional wounds.  Running, lifting, getting in shape all help us rise above the emotional pain we are struggling with.  Yes there are times when we need a day curled up in a  fetal position on the couch.  There is a time for everything.  But at some point we need to rise from the couch and get active.  There’s freedom, growth, healing in that activity.  Go play today…

Jim

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