The Work of Play: How Childlike Fun Brings Life to Work

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’” ~Matt. 19:4
I ask the barista for bottled water, and she cocks an eyebrow, smirks, and says in that ascending tone endemic to the millennial, “we don’t serve bottled water, but I can bring you boxed water; it’s much more environmentally friendly.”
I agree, slide my debit card across the counter, and she pulls out an oversized carton reminiscent of the elementary school cafeteria. Its marketing department is rather pleased with the renewability of the container as is evidenced by the prominent declarations on three of its four sides. The third side, though, has only the word “happy,” scrawled in a whimsical cursive font on an otherwise blank canvas. I look at the one-worded side—it’s begging to be markered, I think.
I make my way to the booth where my laptop and half-eaten lunch are waiting. Today is a work-through-lunch sort of day. Things are forever piling up—work obligations, family obligations, the occasional free-lance writing gig—and no sooner do I consider my morbidly obese to-do list than my phone dings. It’s a text message from a friend asking if I could carve out some time to discuss a bit of afternoon business.
I feel the anxiety rising—just one more thing—and I pick up my cellphone, type “sure” and hit send while muttering “shoot” under my breath. In the moment, there is a sense that this kind of hyper-connected, hyper-productive pace is turning me into something akin to a Sci-Fi cyborg, one forever connected to the mother-ship of obligation vis-à-vis the smart phone, tablet, or laptop.
The carton stares at me from across the table, its blank face and “happy” smile begging to be adorned. I grab a ball cap from my bag, throw it atop the carton and turn back to my computer.
In three minutes, I receive a series email notifications.
Blip—Just a reminder that our scheduled meeting will go forward tomorrow despite inclement weather.
Blip—could you look this document over before tomorrow morning? We need our client to execute it prior to lunch.
Blip—I have resolution notes that need proofing before week’s end. Think you could help me out?
The suffocating avalanche of obligation is coming, and I stare across the table at my happy little water carton. He needs some eyes, maybe a nose, I think. I grab a Sharpie from my bag, flesh out a face for the carton. His mouth says, “happy.”
My cell phone dings and I look at the notification. It’s my babysitter, who is watching the children while Amber’s out of town tending to her own business. “Would you mind picking up the kids from school today? Titus is asleep and I’d rather not wake him.” I pick up the phone, toss it across the booth as if avoiding a response will somehow make the request go away.
There are times when I feel like Alice whirling down the proverbial rabbit hole of modern productivity, and in those moments, I often find that a little playful behavior can help me reorient, gain a little equilibrium.
We all need a break, I think.
I shut my laptop lid, grab a pen and poke ear holes into my new friend. I take the earbuds from my bag, place them in my water carton, who is now not only environmentally friendly, but hip, too.
I grab my cell phone, snap a quick photo and upload it to Instagram with the following caption:
The folks at @onyxcoffeelab told me that boxed water was more "environmentally friendly," than the bottled stuff. I didn't realize, though, that it is legitimately friendly, too—like in a "mind if I pull up a chair and have lunch with you," kind of way. Then he ate my sandwich and wouldn't take out his headphones. And that backwards hat? Youngsters can be so into themselves.
The barista notices the spectacle from across the café, and comes to my table, smiling. “Nice,” she says.
“You think?” I ask.
“Do you remember that movie Castaway? It kind of reminds me of Wilson. You must have been lonely to create a Wilson water bottle,” she says.
I smile, tell her that I was trying my best to find a little levity in the middle of work-day obligations. “It helps to take a break every now and then, to reorient myself to art, or music, or something playful.”
“How very adult of you,” she says with a laugh, and walks back behind the counter.
I consider her comment, consider the childish work of art sitting across the table from me. We come into this world children, all of us full of imagination and creativity. We wonder at the world around us, turn it into our play-place, a place of safe and fun respite. But something happens along the way if we let it, doesn’t it? Don’t we all struggle with finding the joy of childlike simplicity?
I open my laptop lid, take a deep breath, and prepare to dive back into the work. Before I type the first word, though, I lean in and whisper to my Water Carton Wilson, “maybe we’re both a little childish, Wilson, but I think you’re swell.”
And then, I open the most recent email and click “reply.”

The Work of Play

Play is not just for kids. If you are under pressure in your work, a spirit of play can lead to balance, creativity, and good health. In our hyper-productive world, we need to learn how to play again—at home, on the job, and even in worship. This article is part of our series The Work of Play. If someone you know needs to rediscover the joy of play, invite them to the conversation on The High Calling.

Image by Zeke Franco. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.