I made a bad choice one day recently. I needed to play; I needed some recreation, some relaxation.  So did my husband, and we decided to go to a movie. It was not R-rated, and had been highly recommended.  I came out bereft of the Spirit.

I felt angry, frustrated, even disgusted with the totality of natural man stuff depicted. This movie is drawing big crowds all across the country, yet not one minute of it affected me as being virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy!  To me it wasn’t recreation at all. Why?

Defining Terms

The dictionary defines the word “recreate” as “to put fresh life into, especially by some kind of amusement or relaxation after work.”  The definition of the word “recreation” is “a leisure-time activity engaged in for the sake of refreshment.”  The movie I chose for recreation did not filled those qualifications. I decidedly had not been “recreating.”

Maybe I am not sufficiently desensitized to enjoy even the fun part of most current movie and TV fare, but I don’t feel inclined to apologize for that. If I feel like life has been drained out of me by a film, instead of fresh life put into me, that is an honest feeling. I can’t help being alarmed to know that the movie I saw was only mildly shocking and disgusting in comparison with many others showing at movie complexes across the country.

The Importance of Wholesome Recreation

The Church has long recognized the need for wholesome recreation – even providing in most church buildings a “recreation” hall. Joseph Ballard wrote of Elder Melvin J. Ballard:

He declared that the Latter-day Saints look upon recreation as a segment covering a very important part of every happy life, as one of the fields of applied religion and a means of culture and spiritual growth through the wholesome use of leisure time.

He said that recreation should enrich the lives and contribute to the permanent happiness and well-being of those participating — contributing to abundant and purposeful living. Elder Ballard mentioned that recreation can also provide companionships and social contacts.  (Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, p. 38).

Are his ideas outdated and no longer relevant or can we use them as a measuring rod to our current recreational options? Among  the choices we have available for recreation, can any of them be considered:

  1. as a field of applied religion?
  2. as a means of culture and spiritual growth?
  3. as a way to enrich life and refresh us?
  4. as contributory to permanent happiness and well-being?
  5. as adding companionship and positive social contacts?
  6. as contributory to abundant and purposeful living?

President Ezra Taft Benson referred to “spiritualized recreation.” He was probably referring to the kind of recreation that fits the above criteria (General Conference address. Sunday, April 6, 1947). D&C 136: 28 gives an example of what he may have been referring to: “If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.”

The Pioneers had hard days, but from many accounts, they knew how to play when it was appropriate. Even in their difficult circumstances they found time for wholesome recreation. Many evenings found them singing and dancing and entertaining each other in ways that lifted their spirits and lightened their hearts – and gave praise to God for their blessings.  How much of our current “entertainment” accomplishes those goals? How many of us have forgotten how to play in a way that restores our souls instead of diminishes them?

Don’t Forget to Play!

I often forget how to play because it seems a choice between purposeful activity with long-term benefits and “fun.” I forget that wholesome recreation has many purposes. Even apart from spiritual refreshment, play has many benefits.

Richard Tait, founder of Cranium, Inc,. a games and toy company, had this to say about play:

Why is play important? It’s nature’s way of training us for what life has in store. Play serves more than 30 developmental functions – from motor skills like running, jumping, and balancing to cognitive skills like creativity, logic and problem-solving… Play brings us together, allows us to put the rest of the world on pause and encourages us to laugh. It teaches us trust, cooperation, respect for others, sharing, mastery and many of life’s other lessons. Play is a fundamental need, just like air, water and the five food groups (“Let’s Play,” Parade magazine, 30 July, 2006).

How many of us are suffering from malnourishment of spirit caused by a lack of real play?

Life is short – I realize how short the older I get! And I don’t want to waste any of it! Joseph Smith laughed and played and condoned many forms of recreation among the Saints. He said a bow that is always strung tight loses its spring. I know from experience that he was right!

“Brother Joseph” was famous for taking the time to play with children and engage in physical activities and contests that gave him respite from his weighty responsibilities. Yet I’m almost surprised when I hear of or see a General Authority attending a sporting event or concert in this day and age. But why? Every human being needs times when he can relax and be rejuvenated.

What forms of recreation have I personally found most refreshing and beneficial?

Music and Dance

I love to play the piano, yet I can easily talk myself into feeling it is a waste of time because I seem to have nothing to show for my efforts when I’m finished. But isn’t a swelling of the heart and a lessening of the tension in my shoulders “something?” Music is one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given us to renew our spirits.  I’ve gone to concerts, and participated in cantatas at church when I’ve literally wept with joy at the beauty of the music. I can also feel refreshed and enlivened when I listen to uplifting music at home.

Ordinary ballroom, folk, and square dancing are on the endangered species list, but have offered many hours of wholesome and therapeutic recreation and socializing for me. Even moving to the rhythm of music as I do my housework could qualify as dancing, and can be amazingly soothing and therapeutic.

We read of scriptural characters engaged in music and dancing in order to be renewed in body and spirit. King Solomon had David play the harp for him. “David took an harp, and played with his hands; so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him” (1 Samuel 1i6:23).

There is that “refreshed” word again! And oh, how many times I have been under barrage from the adversary when beautiful music and hymns have delivered me!

The Bible tells us of people singing, dancing, playing instruments and “making a joyful noise unto the Lord.” For example, “And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments” (2 Samuel 6:5).

Art and Nature

My chances of true refreshment are increased when the beauties of nature are part of my recreation. I’ve had many heart-expanding feelings outside – whether in my own back yard, enjoying waterfalls in a canyon, or listening to water lap against a lake or ocean shore. Sometimes I can hardly contain the wonder of the beauty I am viewing.

I yearn for more of those “refreshing, re-creating” experiences, and it’s up to me to choose them.

Art can be a from of recreation that increases awareness of the specific beauty of nature – the million variations of cloud formations and sunrises and sunsets, the etching on a flower, the many colors you can see in the grasses in a pasture or the leaves on trees. In order to draw or paint something you have to look at it closely.

When I am totally aware of WHAT IS in nature, I am occupied with awe. I don’t judge how I think it ought to be or wish it were. However, I have often talked myself out of participating in art, too, because it seems somehow frivolous.

Yet when I give myself permission to do it, it helps me live in the now, and sense my truth. How can that be unimportant?  For those with an artistic bent, art can be a key for living in the truth of what is, storing memories and images from which to create, and avoiding the counter-productivity of negative thoughts and judgments.

Learning to Play by Observing and Playing with Children

When we think of recreation, we think of play.  I love to watch children play, and even to join in. Every time I forget how to play, my grandchildren remind me.  What is play, anyway? Being in the moment, enjoying, being alive, being mindful, conscious, knowing we have chosen to be where we are, knowing we are choosing to do what we’re doing. Play is being alert, alive, noticing, being able to laugh, not being pulled by tugs from the past or the future, but being fine with right now today.

What do we mean when we say “playful as a kitten? ” A kitten notices every movement and goes after it, bats at strings, jumps at shadows or moving lights; nothing escapes him. A kitten cares nothing for tomorrow or yesterday, but is focused on the moment.

How do children play? By using their bodies swinging, climbing, rolling, bouncing balls, jumping, running. By focusing, laughing, teasing each other, playing games, trying things out, putting things together and taking them apart. By creating – painting, gluing, building, putting wooden train tracks together in a dozen different ways. 

I don’t say my grandchildren are “playing” when they are glued to a TV or movie screen, so why did I go to a movie  when I needed to play?  How can I avoid that choice in the future and instead apply the “play techniques” I see my grandchildren using? Can I learn from them to totally focus on the now? Can we all learn from children to choose more child-like refreshing forms of recreation?

One of the most rejuvenating things I’ve ever done was give way to my childlike desire to go out in the rain one warm spring day with a college roommate. We splashed in puddles, ran with the rain on our faces and breathed deeply of that wonderful clean air. We created a memory that brought us closer together, and that neither of us has never forgotten.

Children love to smell flowers, blow bubbles and chase them across the lawn, build sandcastles and laugh as the waves come up and nibble their toes. Children love to swing high, romp in meadows, go barefoot, fly kites, ride bicycles, ask questions, talk to animals, climb trees, lay on the grass and make up pretend cloud pictures in the sky. Why can’t we follow their good examples?

I have fun memories of pillow fights with our youngest sons when we were staying in a motel – but why can’t I have pillow fights with my husband at home? I remember a son jumping up and down, giggling with delight, and pointing at bright colored birds in an aviary. Why can’t I be even remotely that expressive when I feel the same kinds of excitement at God’s creatures? I took my grandchildren to an aquarium recently and relished in their oohs and aahs over bright-colored fish, scary sharks, and manta-rays that could be touched! I can ooh and aah too!

You don’t have to be a child to read children’s books, act silly, take bubble baths with tons of bubbles. We can all choose to go on a walk and stop whenever we feel like it, look at flowers, say hi to a dog, pet a cat, or visit with a neighbor. Just lying on the carpet or grass and inviting little ones to romp with us can renew our play quotient. Children really are our best resource for refreshing recreation ideas!

Our health and our relationships are revived through laughter and togetherness. So many of the shining moments we look back on with fondness involve playing with family.

Oh, How We All Need Some Time to Play

Adults and children both need time to play – to engage in their own forms of wholesome recreation. Cheiko Okasaki, former member of the General Relief Society presidency, tells of her experiences as a grade-school principal. One bright, talented little girl was repeatedly in the nurse’s office for one ailment or another. When she talked with this little girl about her life, she learned that she was highly scheduled – being car-pooled from one class or activity to another most of her waking hours. “I like them all,” the little girl said wistfully, “but I wish I had some time to play.”

Oh, how my heart resonates with that little girl’s. Haven’t we all, in our tightly scheduled lives wished we had a little time to play?

Writing as Play