What is (was) your favorite thing in a playground? One of my earliest memories is imagining a playground. I would stand in the living room and imagine the various pieces of equipment around me — the slide, the swings, the monkey bars, the teeter-totter. I can remember “seeing” them all around me. My favorite is the swings. I still love to swing. That soaring feeling, up and down. It’s kind of like a mini-Ferris wheel, another favorite of mine. I love the view from on high, the wind whooshing through my hair, the rhythm of my pumping legs, and the back-and-forth, up-and-down motion.
A while ago I heard a speaker talking about the gospel story where the Pharisees (religious leaders of Biblical times) grumbled about Jesus and his disciples breaking the rules of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23–27). As you probably know, the Jewish tradition has serious rules regarding observation of the Sabbath. The Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday and lasts until sundown on Saturday. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8) is one of the 10 commandments.” The commandment refers to the creation story: “For in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11). Jewish people who follow the Sabbath tradition strictly take the idea of doing no work seriously. Some observers will not even turn on a light switch on the Sabbath — flipping the light switch is considered work.
In the story, Jesus and the disciples are walking through grainfields one Sabbath day and they pick some of the grain as they go. As I understand it, you can pick the heads of the grain, rub them between your hands to remove the chaff, and then eat the grain that is left. Maybe the disciples were hungry or just wanted a snack. But, the Pharisees were always looking for something to accuse Jesus of and this was their opportunity. That little action of picking the grain and eating it was considered work — just like flipping a light switch is now. The Pharisees pointed that out, kind of like, “Hey Jesus, you claim you’re this important leader of the Jews, our Messiah, and you’re not even following our rules!”
Jesus, as usual, has no problem responding. First, he points out that there’s a historical basis for breaking that rule — King David did it. The Pharisees knew all about King David. But then Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” I’ve heard this story and that sentence many times, but it really didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I got it that Jesus made his point, but I didn’t really get what it meant. This speaker I heard said it was similar to someone saying “The playground is made for the child, not the child for the playground.”
That made more sense to me. I thought about playgrounds, and how we design them to be fun for kids. We think about what kids like to do and we build equipment that lets them do it. We make playgrounds so the kids can enjoy them. We don’t insist the kids learn how to use these random pieces of equipment in exactly the way we have decided they must. Sure, we show them how to play safely, but good playgrounds are designed to encourage the kids to be creative and use their imaginations to play in all kinds of ways. One child might grab a big steering wheel and pretend he’s the captain of a ship, another might pretend she’s a race driver, maybe one will be a pirate. One child might try to climb up the slide and one might use the ladder. One might swing on the bars of the jungle gym and another will hang upside down, yet another will loop around like a gymnast.
Pondering “The playground is made for the child, not the child for the playground,” I thought Jesus must have meant that God gave his people the Sabbath for their enjoyment, for their rest. It’s like a present he gave them to get them out of the neverending cycle of work day after day. Just as we bring kids to a playground so they can enjoy it, play freely rather than following a bunch of rules and doing their schoolwork or chores. We design playgrounds and take kids to them because we love them. We want them to have fun and be happy.
God not only gave his people (the Jews and us, too) a day of rest, a day outside the cycle of work-work-work, but he gave us all of creation. There is work involved in caring for his creation, but he wants us to enjoy the world we live in. He wants us to be happy in it, to learn more and more about it, to be in awe of it, to feel the joy all around us because of it.
This desire God has for us to be happy in his creation is yet another way he shows how much he loves us. We won’t be happy all the time. Bad things are going to happen. But just as we want our children to have a happy place, God wants all of us to have a happy place, too. We cannot really fathom the depth of God’s love, but thinking about how we have this “playground” to enjoy because he loves us gives us a glimpse.
Even when life is difficult, when you are sad or hurt, may you feel God’s great love as you notice the world we live in (the playground he gave us) — your home, your belongings, the nature that surrounds you, the people who love you, even small things like the scent of cut grass, a gentle breeze, the sight of a bright star, the taste of something delicious — all the gifts from God because of his deep, abiding love.
Originally published at https://www.mavismoon.com on October 22, 2020.