Fun: A Spiritual Practice

57 degrees with a stiff westerly wind, no swim suit, and a mile of dark forest trail between me and my car,  but no matter, the mighty Pacific calls my name anyhow. I shred my shirt and shoes, dash for frothy waves, but grow cautious as the water’s chill gathers up my spine. Then, in one strong motion I lean, head first, into the gut of a crashing swell. In a moment, I feel no cold, only the exhilaration of bobbing to and fro at the whim of the great ocean.

Soon my skin grows numb. A body-wide tingle envelopes my flailing, boyish moment. And I shout to myself, “This is what it feels like to be really alive!”

Something in you might scoff at my foolishness, but I bet at least a part of you cheers in solidarity. We humans have a great deal of happiness kept up in our bones--just waiting for the preoccupations of an agitated sea to bring it out of us.

Standing, cold, but so free in the Pacific, I turned around to see my two young boys looking at me, their mouths agape, their cheeks full of smiling muscles, and their eyes speaking in the deepest boy language, “I can’t wait to do that!” I can see them now in my mind and the image imperils all my self-loathing, melancholy, and dread. A dad at play is a wonder and testament to his children.

As a Church, we’ve come a long way from the days of suits, sunday hats, and the rigorous tentacles of church culture suppressing every whisper of fun. But have we come to see fun as spiritual practice? Or do we see merriment only as a kind of superfluous thing we do to aid in a bigger church cause? Such as coffee and donuts on Sunday morning so that people will feel more comfortable. Or a big bbq thrown for the purpose of people getting to know one another and so we can invite our friends to a non-threatening church event. But what about making fun the point?

I can tell you, in moments of joyous abandon, like today in the sea, I meet Jesus. It feels silly to write, but he’s right there, flopping aimlessly in the watery tumult. In fact, I think Jesus wants us, all of us, to be so truly free that we can enjoy the fruit of the earth with him and one another.1 He created us, and saw fit to give us the ability to become completely lost in moments of ecstatic natural highs.

What’s more, that connection between myself and Jesus which feels so immanent in joyful times helps me trust his presence in seasons of loss and grief. When I remember him in the fun, I come to trust that he’s there in both the dull and the wretched. It’s the same with people, I think. I grow to trust people by having fun with them. There’s something about cheerful diversions that give you a window into the soul of your companion. In fact, that’s how most of us go about choosing a spouse: we court them by doing a ton of excited and lighthearted things with them. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but imagine it with the fun snuffed out. You’d never go anywhere in relationships. I think it’s the same in our walk with Jesus. The fun helps us see his goodness, so that we remember it when times grow painful and we’d like to think he isn’t there. But those moments of his presence while frollicking in the sea help us trust that he remains present when we cry and when we lay sleepless in our beds.

So, go have fun with Jesus. And let the revelation of his presence in sun-filled glory seep so deeply into you that you remember it clearly when all goes dark. Yes, may the visage of him smiling as he throws himself at an impending wave be to us, his children, a wonder and testament.  

1 I specifically say “all of us,” because for some across the globe their situation prevents them from pursuing jovial amusements. I’d like to think that God intends for all people to be free enough to play.


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