When the “Barbie” movie was released, I suggested to my wife that we go. And to those who know me, it should come as no surprise that I suggested we go wearing pink. Yes, I have a couple pink shirts in my closet. Sadly, the film had left the theaters before our schedules would allow us to see Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie on the big screen. Wendy and I donned our pink attire as we watched the blockbuster hit on-demand on our TV in the family room.
Come to think of it, watching from our family room was the perfect venue to view a fun film that triggered many memories. From the time I was a young dad I played Barbies with my three daughters in our family room. Unlike many of my fellow fathers, I had no problem sitting cross-legged on the floor giving voices to the miniature Mattel misses. I was secure enough in my masculinity to let my hair down while brushing Barbie’s with my girls. In fact, it was in that unique context that I learned a few lessons that have served me well as a pastor. Consider the following:
Trust is more easily earned while meeting another on their level. My daughters loved the fact that I was willing to play Barbies with them. It became our thing. Stooping to where they were won their hearts. When I was a rookie minister, I observed an older colleague greeting his flock at the door of the church following the service. Rather than patting a child on the head, this pastor took a knee and greeted the little lamb while looking them in the eye. What I saw deeply impressed me. I made it a habit to do the same. But I also discovered the concept of finding common ground holds true with adults as well. When we seek to find common ground with another person, we are more likely to engage them without pretense.
Using one’s imagination cultivates a sense of wonder. Pretending with my girls and creating conversations between the dolls stretched my ability to think outside the box. It gave me a platform for sharing life lessons with my offspring using foot-long plastic figures as a vehicle. It’s amazing how much you can communicate when you are indirectly speaking.
As I look at the New Testament, I see that Jesus did the same. By sharing parables, he invited his listeners to use their imaginations. Through the use of fiction, Jesus fleshed-out truth. And I have found much freedom illustrating bottom-line convictions by sharing hypothetical anecdotes off-the-top of my head.
We are never too old to play. When I first started to dress Ken and Barbie dolls, I was in my early thirties. Now that I am seventy-one, I still find myself on the floor in the family room with my two granddaughters. Just the other day while browsing at the local thrift store, I found a toy sports car with a couple dolls strapped in the front seat. Of course, I bought it for Immy and Ivy. I can imagine hours of play with my pintsize playmates. After all, I have experience making believe.
But the family room floor isn’t the only place we have fun together. There’s the backyard where we play hide-and-seek. There’s the street in front of our house where we roll tennis balls down a hill. And there’s the park next to the thrift store where we use our imaginations and energy. And when it comes to the latter, they have three-times as much as I do.
But even so, play rejuvenates us. It provides a needed distraction from daily routines that serves to reboot our “personal” computers. Play is God’s way to remind us that when all is said and done, we are His children no matter how many candles will adorn our birthday cake this year.
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is a former chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.