I wonder if you remember that time, sometime between, say, 10 and 14 years old, when you stopped playing with the innocence and freedom of a child, and had to find a new way to be with your friends. I recall I was barely conscious of the transition (you could say, of course, that I was barely conscious of myself, at the time) but there was sometimes a feeling of embarrassment about the shared memories; "Oh yes, that old bit of dowel, that’s what we used as a light-sabre wasn’t it?" *Shuffle.* *Embarrassed side-ways glance.* "Yeah. Toss it." And it was tossed.
This was the first and only period of my life when organised sports held any attraction for me at all. They gave me and my mates a way to be our normal exuberant and physical selves without recourse to our ‘childish’ games. They were a safe way to have a whole lot of fun together. The rest of the time we just ‘hung out’ together in various haunts, trying to work out how to use these new, maturing bodies, voices, and thoughts that puberty had delivered to us. Seems to me now that our conversation was one long attempt to be ‘clever’ which usually meant being cynical and sexually knowledgeable – long before any of us knew anything!
There was more to it than that, of course, but I think that was pretty much the dominant flavour. When I became Christian and began to hang out with other Christian teenagers, there was, I think, something of relief in having something in my life and a group of people with whom I could be unashamedly enthusiastic, again, that didn’t involve hitting or kicking an innocent ball! Some of my best memories of my last school year involve us walking on the beach, singing simple Christian choruses together. No self-consciousness required.
One of the tragedies of growing up is that so often we don’t ever learn to get past that teenage cynicism and the ‘safe’ outlet of organised sports. Nothing (much) wrong with sports really, but… can’t we learn to play again with the creativity and spontanaeity of kids?
I guess God began to redeem my ability to play with those songs on the beach – just being able to enjoy the company of my peers without competition, without self-consciousness. A year later when I was at Massey University a good friend and I jumped on the back of my Motorcycle and rode an hour out to Himatangi beach with its steep, deserted sand-dunes, clear views to Taranaki, sunshine, and utter lack of examinations. I can’t remember all the details of the afternoon we spent there, but I do remember the two of us, holding drift-wood sticks out in front of us like handle-bars, and running up and down the dunes making roaring engine noises. I felt about six years old. It was wonderful.
There are certain ingredients necesary for play. A good mate, a healthy disregard for one’s own dignity, a secure sense of self that doesn’t need an audience and doesn’t mind if there is one. All of this God gives in Christ.