It occurs to me in watching children play that they know something that we have forgotten. They know how to play for its own sake.
We, on the other hand, will only play games if we can enter a competition, and we enter a competition to win. What do we want to win? We want to win some sort of trophy. If not a trophy itself, then the reward of being not just best at something, but better than someone else. In other words, we not only want to win. We want to beat the other guy. So our playtime is corrupted by competition.
A child playing–truly playing–on the other hand, does playtime for its own sake. When a child is pretending and playing there is no competition. When a child is coloring or painting or making a model there is no competition. They are doing that activity for its own sake. There is no payment. There is no reward. There is not competition. There is no plastic trophy.
Beneath the need to win an award there is too often also the need to make money out of the thing we enjoy. If we win the prize there may be a bigger prize and we may be able to make money out of the enterprise. There is no harm in making money. We need money to live. We need money to pay the bills. We need money for all that we require in life, but the need for money undermines the freedom of playing with complete simplicity and freedom as a child plays.
This is why, on seeing the children play it seemed to me that God is like a child. God has no need of anything. Therefore he does not need to work for his keep. He is a gentleman of leisure. Like an English aristocrat in a big house with a huge inherited income he may work if he wishes, but even that work is a kind of play for he does not need to work to earn his keep.
So it is with God. Everything he does is a kind of play for he does what he does for its own sake. To be sure, it is a most serious kind of playtime, but leisure and play it must be for he does not compete with anyone nor does he need anything.
Then I am reminded of a word, just one word in the gospel passage which was the text for today’s online Bible study. (By the way, join in if you are not doing so already. I am enjoying writing the reflections, but they must have readers or they will die)
The word was “child”. It is in Mark chapter two. It is the beautiful story of the men who bring their paralyzed friend to Christ the Lord for healing. When he is lowered down to the feet of the Master, the Master calls him (with great tenderness I am sure) “Child”
Then I remember the child prophet Therese and her little sister Bernadette. I think of the child prophets of Fatima and Garabandal and Kibeho. I think of the Infant Jesus of Prague dressed up as a child might dress up in a costume for a play, but he is truly king of the universe and not just pretending.
So I am reminded of the infant King’s later gesture when he takes the little children on his knee to bless them and tells the whole cosmos that “unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I say he speaks this to the whole of the cosmos for every cell and morsel–every star and grain of sand must learn that lesson. We and they and all created things must learn to be as simple and free as a child at play–doing all things for their own sake and not for competition or for money if we can help it.
He says this because he also tells us we must be “perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect” and of course perfect means perfectly simple, perfectly whole, perfectly perfect and complete. This is what he is like who is the Father and the child at once, and I wonder therefore if God in his awful purity and perfection is that child at play, and that is why the Lord gathered them up and told us to be like them.
Because in them he saw his Father and in them he loved Him.