She decided that our loveseat was a hospital bed shared by T.C. and My Friend, two of her baby dolls. She delicately placed a pillow under both their heads and covered them with blankets.
“They are not doin’ well,” Reese told me. “They sick. They in hospital.”
At one point Reese asked me to pray for them. I said I would.
I put my right hand on My Friend’s arm. Reese, of her own accord, took my left hand in her right. Then I asked Reese to put her left hand on T.C.’s arm. She did. I prayed a simple prayer, pausing after each line to let Reese say it herself. After the “amen,” I showed Reese how to give a gentle kiss of peace on the doll’s forehead. I kissed My Friend. She kissed T.C.
A day or so after our prayer meeting, I wasn’t feeling well and lying on the living room sofa. Reese walked by. On a whim, I asked her to pray for me. She did so – eagerly. For the most part, I couldn’t understand what she was saying, although I could pick up an occasional “feel better” or “Jesus.” And, of course, her speech ended with an “amen.”
Why did she turn the living room into a hospital? Why was she so interested in prayers for healing and peace?
It occurred to me that Reese had been on a number of hospital visits with Mindy right around the same time. So, Reese had stood beside the hospital beds and heard the prayers and seen the peaceful touches. Now she was playing them out, practicing them, pretending them through her dolls. Through her play, Reese was trying this aspect of Christian service on for size.
This play and pretending is a critical part of how she processes life and matures.
A number of times Mindy and I have heard Reese scolding her stuffed animals for the very same things for which we’ve scolded her. My mother-in-law for years worked as a counselor of families and children. With kids she often used play therapy to allow them to grapple with life’s challenges by pretending them out with toys.
It seems to me that as we age we should not give up this healthy play as a way of growing, especially if we are seeking to grow into more fully-formed followers of Jesus.
Along these lines, I remember the house-building mission trips I’ve taken to northern Mexico.
There is a lot about such a trip that is not play. The gut-wrenching poverty and the desperate need for livable housing are not in the least bit “playful.” But, in a different sense, a mission trip is all about holy, Christian play.
Think about it. A group of people go somewhere distant from the normal patterns of home to “try-on” what it’s like to live, even for a few days, as a more focused community of Jesus. We share our resources. We make ourselves available to one another. We make times of prayer and praise a priority for us a community. We live as if the mission given us by Christ was the most important thing we had going on in our lives. And we call ourselves to look at those we are working with through the compassionate eyes of Jesus.
In the best sense possible, such groups play at being more intentionally and clearly Christian, if even only for a few days. At while we play, it really happens.
In essence, it is very much like what Reese was doing as she played chaplain of her makeshift hospital, and this is a very good thing. If we will let it, such play can help us grow in faith, hope, and love – not just for a few days, but perhaps for the rest of our natural lives and beyond.
What quality of Christ would you like to try on for size through this type of “play therapy”? Who knows? By pretending in such a way you may find that the Lord has actually made it yours.