Start by Paying Attention to Playtime
We want to work and live out of our truest self. But calling can feel elusive. Like a hunt for buried treasure. I’m unsure it’s really a thing. Do I have a calling or is that just for special people? Why is it so hard to unearth?
“The place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need”.
Frederich Buechner’s definition of calling nails it. It’s the place I want to work and serve from. But I’m not sure where to find it.
It’s uncomplicated in a child. They know what they love. One performs. One creates. Another solves puzzles. Yet another sees the world as an endless science experiment, asking “What happens if I do this?”
“We arrive into the world with birthright gifts…” but we spend our early lives fitting into “expectations,… slots, … images of acceptability”. Often, the roles we learn to play move us away from our truest self, says J. Parker Palmer. Vocation is about living within our calling, out of our true self. Distinct from career, which we train for and fit into, vocation is “not a goal to be achieved… but a gift to be received.”
I’ve lost my capacity to immerse myself in “my deep gladness”. I’m preoccupied with too many shoulds. Gladness is for holidays and maybe weekends. I’ve bought into subtle “expectations,… images of acceptability”, like:
• I need to be “useful”.
• I need to cook from scratch or I’m a bad mom.
• Clutter = domestic failure.
• Skipping a week of writing = creative failure.
• My interests only qualify for leftover time and mental energy. And that is in scarce supply.
The Way We Play
“We worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” — Gordon Dahl
Like so many responsible adults (39% of Americans), I’ve bought the lie that leisure exists only as a reprieve from “real” work or to recharge so I can do more work. Our rest exists only to serve our work. (Jan Johnson)
Johnson argues that, “[l]eisure is good and holy in itself…”. Play is so crucial that pediatricians are now prescribing play for children!
“Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. We can play, even as we can eat, to the glory of God.” — C.S. Lewis
What would it look like to believe that? To believe that playing with my kids is as important as writing that piece or making that phone call? To not rush through it because the dishes are calling? To stare out a window?
Reinstating White Space
Creativity and connection happen in the space between action items. In the whitespace.
Juliet Funt says our drive to fill every moment with active work is backfiring. We’re stressed, exhausted, and depleted. Our relationships and health suffer. As does our work.
Those moments where we replay a conversation, ponder a problem, stare of into space are whitespace. Those moments are not wasted. Instead, they are where creative problem solving begins.
Funt says even brief moments of reflection matter. She’s found thirty seconds of intentional reflection before a meeting can change the tone and improve connection. She reflects on who she will meet with and their concerns and goals. She then enters the meeting less harried and more present.
This, I could do. Breathe and pause for a few seconds before the kids return home or the in-laws show up? That could pay dividends. I might ask better questions. Engage more fully.
Recalling Forgotten Joys
Calling is rarely (maybe never) a completely new passion. It’s almost always something that brought you joy but has been forgotten. I loved to draw as a kid. You wrote stories. One friend directed plays. Perhaps you sewed, tinkered, whiddled, painted, hiked.
Whatever it was, your deep joy isn’t new. Only forgotten.
J. Parker Palmer recounts how he recorded his observations about his granddaughter from her earliest days. Her likes and dislikes, her proclivities,… these are all saved in a letter that “will find its way to her in her late teens or early twenties”. He explains this is not the answer to who she is, but insight to help her “recall who she has been, with the hope that she will unearth her true self sooner than her grandfather did.”
What if our memory books contained fewer details about lost teeth and more insight into our child’s true self?
What a gift to our kids! And to us — because, let’s be honest, some of those slots kids are forced into are heavily encouraged by us as parents.
What free play is your child drawn to? Is one an artist? sculptor of Playdough? builder? baker? dancer? puzzle solver? What do they love to do when their day is not filled with scheduled events?
How do they interact? Is one the negotiator? the mediator? the creative? the leader?
The Power and Privilege of Parents
Our kids can enjoy their organized activities, but the motives get muddled. They may be following their friends’ interests or complying with our apparent priorities.
The activities they are most passionate about will find their way into their unstructured time.
Sidney Crosby practiced shooting on a hockey net faithfully even at age 4. It would appear he really loved the game.
Contrast André Agassi who, after decades as a successful tennis star confessed he always hated tennis. He played to earn the love of a father who could not separate his love of the game from his love for his son.
Clearly, André Agassi was gifted and disciplined, but tennis did not bring him joy. It was a burden. And that is tragic! Let’s not burden our kids so.
Training and Reminding
Our children come to us with passions and gifting and it is our privilege to watch them uncover and develop those.
They also arrive with characters unformed, impulses uncontrolled, and skills yet-to-be-developed. We have the privilege of glimpsing their particular personalities and callings. We also have the challenge of guiding and training and parenting.
Just because their gifts are in them does not mean they are equipped to sort it all out on their own. It is our challenge to call out those gifts and remind them when they forget.
When the promise of accolades has shifted their focus to other pursuits, when peer groups pull them in other directions — we can help them remember. There’s nothing wrong with trying a variety of activities and developing a wide range of skills.
And yet, the world needs people who are fully alive. And fully alive people aren’t the ones who slipped into a slot because of the benefits package.
Fully alive people are using their unique gifts to pursue their passions and serve others. They are walking in their vocation and it shows.
If hearing that leaves you discouraged. Fear not. Your expertise is not wasted, even if it’s not aligned with your passion. Joshua Becker suggests keeping your day job to pay the bills while engaging in your calling to “pay”/ fulfill your soul — to invest in significance, to influence others for good, to build a legacy, not just a bank account. It could be on the side. It could be in a volunteer capacity.
His definition of minimalism fits here.
“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts from it.” This is not just about stuff. This is about how we spend our time.
Neither you nor your kids have to do all the activities.
When your commitments are burdens, when your kids play three sports and love only one, maybe it’s time to cut back. If time to reassess. Put a little whitespace back in your calendar. Maybe you’ll unearth some hidden treasure.