1. You think death is the worst thing that can happen.
C.S. Lewis was in the trenches of the Somme during WWI. Trench warfare was not light-hearted or pleasant. Soldiers often lay low during the day and hurriedly reorganized at night (when sniper fire could be best avoided), disrupting sleep patterns and draining energy. The once verdant fields of France were trodden into muddy wastes, and the smell of corpses lingered between the lines in no-man’s-land. Lewis once described it in these words: “the smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night till they seemed to grow to your feet.” Many casualties were due to shell fire, which, in the days before antibiotics, resulted in shrapnel wounds and a slow death due to infection. When attacking, infantry would go over the top of the trenches and advance through the mire of bodies and barbed-wire to the enemy lines. If they successfully avoided the machine-gun fire and made it alive to the line, they would engage the enemy with bayonets.
Years later, Lewis referred to his experience in war and remarked:
“I often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first world war, I and some German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughter over it.” (see C.S. Lewis Faith Collection).
Laugh over it? Really? How could one laugh about dying in such a horrible way and place? About being bayonetted to death in the mud?
First, there are worse things than death. Death may be serious, but not as serious as sin, or joy, or heaven. Second, if, as Lewis imagines, he and the German soldier were to awake after death and finding themselves together in the world-to-come, where life could be said to really start (as a story that has only just begun, following a brief preface), then many things before that seemed serious might appear quite small, even humorous.
Life can be ugly, painful, and deadly serious. But that doesn’t make it all-important. If we prize this life so much that physical death is the worst thing that can happen to us, then we’re taking life too seriously.
You are also taking your life in this world too seriously if…
2. You don’t have time to play.
My son, Arrow (age 4), came up to me as I was working from home one morning. It was the day before our family was set to leave for Colorado on our bi-annual cross-country road trip. He said words I hear almost every day, “Daddy, play with me.” I processed that for a second, thinking, “Whoa, too much to do right now. We’re leaving in less than 24 hours. Tons to pack. No time to ‘play’ right now.” So I said, “Arrow, I’m working, buddy.”
Then he said, “But, somebody’s got to play with me…”
As he said it, he turned his head to look around for someone else who might be interested in playing. Now my heart had been tapped, and all I could think was “Drop whatever you thought was important, and play with him.”
So we played with little figurine knights. I held a knight, and he had a knight and his wolf. The knights were eating, feeding their pet wolf, and then going to fight. This was our world, and little Arrow was completely content.
Arrow has a longing to play, and for someone who’s interested enough to play with him. But that longing isn’t unique to my son. We all long to play, and we all long to play with our Father, because that’s how we were created.
In the beginning, God made man and woman, and he put them in a beautiful garden, in a big world. They had work to do, but that was when all work was also play. And God put little treasures in the world for them to find as they worked, like gold, bdellium, and onyx stone (Gen. 2:11-12). God made the most elaborate, expensive, and expansive Easter egg hunt ever, and he set his children off to explore and have fun.
Of course, life went south. Rather, it went east—of Eden. Humanity chose itself over God as ruler, provider, and judge. But that didn’t change the fact that we were created with the desire to play. We were created to play, and God, who delights in our play, formed us in his image.
We take our lives in this world too seriously when we disregard, disrespect, or disassociate ourselves from play. One blessing we have in the Gospel is the hope of unadulterated, unsullied, and unending play. We can’t even begin to imagine how fun heaven will be, for “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
For a child to play, he or she must be in a safe place, where adults who love them provide an environment of peace and protection, where there are rules, teaching, and structure that sets familiar guides, boundaries, and runways. But to play, a child must also have access to the unknown and the unfamiliar. The rules and teaching must allow for creativity and spontaneity. Structure must form a runway that lets the child take-off and fly into the unknown. In other words, kids should play in the yard, not the street, but the yard should have plenty of mud to play in.
Mud in your backyard and mud in the Somme Valley are not the same, but they are pretty close. So whether you’ve got ‘serious work’ to do, or you are trading stabs with a bayonet, maybe you’ll be comforted by the fact that, when all is said and done, there are much more serious matters–matters that bear an eternal “weight of glory”–and in the meantime, maybe you’ll be able to play a bit more in the mud.