I still clearly remember the exceedingly casual way Melody’s hair was strewn atop her head when I walked into her house without knocking. It was a dreary fall morning and I didn’t have the emotional capacity for things like manners.
Melody didn’t miss a beat when she saw me standing in the middle of her living room clasping a steaming mug of coffee I had haphazardly transported from my house to hers. Melody invited me to have a seat on the couch so we could talk about it—whatever on earth it was.
I explained how this particular morning had seemed like an ideal time to panic about being in my thirties and not yet having birthed a gaggle of children dressed in hand-sewn vegan materials whom I feed from my well-kept garden brimming with nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, all while wearing pilates pants.
Quite oppositely, I considered it a successful day if I remembered to use a coupon; this was not the kind of victory I imagined having in my thirties.
Melody took a deep breath and propped her legs up—clearly, very alarmed by my emergency. Then, in true Melody fashion, she spoke timely words of wisdom that seemed at first completely irrelevant.
“You have to learn how to play again,” she said, clasping her hands behind her head. “You know how Scripture talks about God’s kingdom being for the children? That’s because it is filled with imaginative, playful people, like children. You are so busy trying to live up to societal pressures that you forgot how to actually live.”
I stared blankly and tried to take it in.
“You have to go back to the playground, “she added, after a few moments of silence.
I glanced out the window and suddenly noticed the way the wind was weaving through the vibrant yellow-orange leaves outside; even on a gray and rainy morning the colors were breathtaking. It was almost as if they were joining the conversation and inviting me to come and play.
I wondered if my coffee was stronger than usual.
“Your job, your daily tasks… anything can be play,” Melody went on. “Life is all play when you have the right mindset. There is so much joy in every moment if we have the desire and calmness of mind to see it.”
I sat stunned. Melody’s words were simple and yet they were breathing life back into my frazzled soul. Just ten minutes began an unraveling of everything the last decade had taught me: work, achieve, do, keep up, get, compete, perform, perfect. These were the slave drivers leaving me exhausted, empty handed, and increasingly ungrateful.
I cradled my very-cold-by-now coffee in my hands and began to reflect on why I felt such pressure to reach these perceived societal standards. Did I truly even want these things or was I so consumed with what others wanted for me that I couldn’t tell the difference anymore?
If there’s anything that will keep you from the playground, it’s developing tunnel vision on meeting others’ expectations. This mindset drives us off the swings and straight into the factory where we perform empty, conditioned behaviors and hope they will eventually lead to the validation we crave. Sadly, the only thing we get in the factory is exhaustion, depression, and probably some form of lung cancer.
I have since found myself returning to the playful spirit I knew long before fear and envy stifled it into hiding. Little by little, I’m learning to savor instead of consume, observe instead of rush, meditate instead of analyze, and listen instead of talk. (Albeit imperfectly. )
I’ve made it a point to give thanks far more often than I ask why.
Slowly, my mindset is beginning to change. I no longer see myself as the victim of falling behind, but as deeply loved and incredibly fortunate to be living out the purpose God planned uniquely for me. I am coming to believe that I have enough and am enough.
The problem with looking around at others to determine where we should be (aside from it leading us completely astray) is that it causes a hyper focus on what we don’t have. Comparison leads us to believe we are being robbed of something we deserve, when in reality, it’s our own victim mentality that’s robbing us of enjoying what we do have.
The very worst part of factory life is that keeps us inside a stuffy, dark dungeon, far away from the revelations of our unique purpose and true worth. These tiny, but powerful messages are interwoven all throughout creation—even in things like vibrant, autumn leaves.
Life is waiting for you on the playground.