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When Play Becomes Work

A few years ago my wife and I decided that we would invest in sets of toys, rather than buying seemingly random pieces of various sets. We learned this lesson the hard way, actually, as when my son was young, we would buy him toys based on criteria little more advanced than simply purchasing what caught our eyes in the toy story as we shopped a day or two before his birthday. But as he got older, and as we added a daughter to the mix, we came to see the value of buying sets of toys. Playmobil has quickly turned into a favorite, so now, whenever the time comes to buy the children a gift, we tend to buy another Playmobil set.

The kids are building quite a collection. Playmobil is a wonderful toy in that there is a wide variety of sets available and the toys are very well-made: they are very difficult to break and only deliberate effort will actually crack that tough plastic. However, because they are composed of many pieces, and often very small pieces, the toys do tend to break apart into their component parts. We have learned that when the toys begin to fall apart, the children quickly lose interest in them. Several months ago we bought the Playmobil zoo set. The children loved with it and played with nothing else for several days. But their play soon caused the pieces of the set to become scattered. Through the ensuing weeks, the set fell into a greater state of disrepair. The fences ended up in one bin of toys and the animals in another. The roof fell off the entrance to the zoo and the souvenir stands disappeared. Eventually the children abandoned it altogether.

And so this morning my wife and I gathered together all of the scattered pieces of Playmobil in order to reconstruct the sets. We built castles and tree houses, holiday homes and Viking hideouts. We built the zoo back to its former glory. The animals are now back in their cages and a roof once again adorns the entrance way. Civil War soldiers (armed with muskets) are touring the zoo alongside Vikings (and their swords) and pirates (with their cutlasses). Little stuffed animals and tiny balloons are, once again, for sale at the souvenir stands. And lo and behold, the children are now enthusiastically playing with their toys. Unless I miss my guess, I’m thinking they will be playing with it for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t be surprised if Playmobil keeps them occupied all day tomorrow as well.

It’s not that they ever really grew tired of their Playmobil, or that they stopped liking it. It’s just that, as it fell into pieces, they didn’t care to expend the effort in gathering the pieces together and repairing it themselves (or asking mom and dad to repair it for them). They probably did not even stop to think about the fact that they were using it less and less. And then one day they stopped using it altogether.

Said otherwise, they were happy playing with the toy as long as it was easy. But when it required just a little bit of time and effort to maintain their play, they gave up.

As I thought about this, while assembling yet another building, I reached two conclusions. First, I am heading out this afternoon to buy some glue. We’ll make sure that these toys have less opportunity to become scattered around the house. Second, the children are not a whole lot different than me. I realized that my pursuit of God has often resembled the children’s pursuit of play. As long as things are fun in my spiritual walk, I enjoy it. But when this pursuit begins to resemble work, I can start to drift away and to find other things to occupy my mind. I love being a believer and learning about God as long as it seems like fun. But when it requires concentrated effort, I am prone to give up and to find other things to do, all the while wishing that someone would come along and make it fun for me again. I guess, like the children, I still have lots of growing up to do.