By David Rupert
I pulled the tie to my neck. It was cinched just like my dad had taught me. He called it the four-in-hand. I just called it “good.” I took another look at myself in the full-length mirror. No lint on my shoulder. Shoes polished. Hair combed back.
Although I had been in the new position for just a few weeks, it still had that new job smell to it. There was a certain satisfaction to that sensation that I had arrived. I had studied for years. I took the competency test. I did my time in the trenches, working away at lesser joys, perfecting my craft.
I was now knee-deep in the heady world of deadlines, reports and accountability. There was a vision statement, a mission statement, and the diverse needs of a pyramid of bosses that I had to consider every day. And slowly, they were beginning to trust me. I worked hard, stayed late and showed up early. I wanted to make sure that any substandard skills were compensated with over-achievement.
My family was supportive and proud, but honestly, the boys were too young to know the whole impact. Their world was a simple one of throwing balls, chasing grasshoppers, and playing in the field, interrupted only by a mid-day grilled cheese and chocolate milk replenishment. Then it was back to bikes, throwing rocks in the creek, and finding new ways to bother the girls down the street.
I pulled my coat on, ready to head out the door. Kisses all around, keys in my hand, I paused briefly to gaze down on my son, just out of his pull-ups, feeling big in his own right. He had micro-machines placed in row, circling a city built out of LEGOs. There were Army men, standing guard over the roadways. And trouble loomed on the scene. A large stuffed bear was just a couple of feet away, hiding behind the couch, ready to crash the town like a creature from a Japanese horror film.
This set was a talkie, as my son filled the air with nonstop sound effects. Gunfire, shouts, engines and the occasional growl from Creature Teddy. He paused the soundtrack to look up at me.
“Daddy,” brown eyes pleading. “Stay home and play.”
I stammered, unable to make a good excuse. While it was true that Mom would be there, and his brother, too, something cut to my heart. I believed I needed to be at work early, hoping to beat my boss to work to make that good impression. Over the years, the Protestant work ethic passed on from my father was good for my employer, but it wasn’t always so good for my family life.
“Please!” he begged, wriggling over and reaching up, offering his favorite car to me.
I couldn’t resist. I dropped the keys in my coat pocket and then slipped it off, hanging it on the doorknob. I loosened that perfect tie, letting it dangle. I knelt to the floor and took up the flank.
“We need to stop the bear,” I said.
He agreed, head bobbing, and said, “You and me, saving the world.”
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.