Having fun does not come easily to me. I know I’m not alone. When my children were young, I didn’t know how to relax and simply play. I got bored and restless. Being a first-born overachiever, I excelled at the doing part of life. But the letting go and having fun part of life—not so much.
My attempts to have more fun always morph into a work project or an achievement to be accomplished. For example, I don’t play a game for fun. I play to win.
A few years ago I thought it might be fun to try flower gardening. I live on three acres so I had lots of practice space. At first I loved going to the garden center choosing plants, but soon it turned stressful. What plants do I pick? What if they aren’t the right ones for my climate or soil? Did I read up enough on how to group the right plants together?
And then there was all the weeding, deadheading, mulching, cutting down, transplanting, and edging. Gardening no longer felt fun. It felt like work and I already had enough work in my life. I soon hired someone to maintain my fledgling gardens.
This year my sister encouraged me to take a painting class. I love to doodle and all my first draft work papers and to-do lists are filled with squiggles and sketches. I especially like mixed media art where you can paint meaningful sayings on beautiful backgrounds. I signed up, bought all my supplies and looked forward to making beautiful pictures.
I threw my first painting in the garbage. My heart pounded as I tried to copy the teacher’s techniques. My creativity felt frozen inside my fear of failure (even though no one was judging but me). This class was supposed to be relaxing and fun but instead I was turning it into an achievement, something I had to do and do well in order to enjoy it.
During one class the teacher randomly put various colors of scrapbook paper and acrylic paint on the canvas. She had no rhyme or reason for why she picked certain colors or textures other than they “delighted” her. She was being creative, free to experiment, trying different techniques, layering various paint colors with paper and paper with stencils and stamps. She looked like she was having fun.
But as I watched her I thought to myself “How do you paint a picture if you have no idea or design of how you want it to turn out? How do you let go and have fun and simply watch and wait to see what happens next?”
This idea of letting go of my agenda was foreign to me. I always have an idea, of how I want something to turn out. As I watched my instructor “playing” with her paints and papers, I didn’t like how her painting was turning out. Yet she kept going. At one point she said, “I really like this paper.” But then she covered most of it up with paint. But as she played something magical began to unfold on her canvass. The picture began to show itself. We could all see it. And once it became visible, the teacher became more intentional, adding a few more strokes, lines, and colors that made it beautiful. After she finished she said, “You can’t overthink art. It emerges from somewhere deep inside you.”
I decided to try that approach. I told myself that I would have no pre-agenda to my painting. I was going to slap things down on my canvass however and wherever it delighted me at the moment. I experimented with stencils and stamps, played with mixing various paint colors, sprayed water on my canvas and then let all the wet paint drip on the canvass until it looked like it was covered with giant pink tears.
Some of what emerged I liked, most of it I didn’t, but I let it go. I kept doing what my teacher said, simply enjoy the process and do what delights you. And I discovered that what I didn’t like at first, now started to delight me as I saw bits of a previous layer peaking out from underneath the newest layer laid on top of it. I kept experimenting with different papers, various techniques, and every color in the rainbow. I had nothing in mind other than to have fun playing by doing what delighted my soul and spirit. And it worked. I had fun, even if my picture had not yet emerged.
This is what I am learning. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for work and a time for play. There is a time for a to-do list and a time to let go and be present to what delights you.
And that is my new definition of fun. Being present to whatever delights me at the moment. Even when I do have an agenda such taking my daily three mile trek down the road, I have learned I can stop for a moment and smell the fresh cut grass or watch a bird gather bits of twigs for its nest. There is no work to that, just pure joy.
As we near the end of summer and start our busy fall schedule, don’t forget how to have fun.