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A WORD FOR TODAY, September 7, 2023
“Wisdom calls aloud in the street. She utters her voice in the public squares. She calls at the head of noisy places. At the entrance of the city gates, she utters her words: ‘How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? How long will mockers delight themselves in mockery, and fools hate knowledge? Turn at my reproof. Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you. I will make known my words to you. Because I have called, and you have refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no one has paid attention; but you have ignored all my counsel, and wanted none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your disaster. I will mock when calamity overtakes you, when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when your disaster comes on like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come on you. Then they will call on me, but I will not answer. They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge, and didn’t choose the fear of Yahweh. They wanted none of my counsel. They despised all my reproof. Therefore they will eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own schemes. For the backsliding of the simple will kill them. The careless ease of fools will destroy them. But whoever listens to me will dwell securely, and will be at ease, without fear of harm.” Proverbs 1:20-33, WEB
There is a playground in Wrexham, England, that goes against everything modern safety standards demand. Since the 1970’s, especially in the United States, playgrounds are expected to meet certain specifications to protect the health and welfare of our children. The ground must be made of something soft. The bars on the high parts of jungle gyms must be close enough so children can’t fit through and fall to the ground. The equipment can’t exceed a certain height. On top of all these limitations in the playgrounds, we often focus on scheduled play and organized activities. We don’t like our kids to get too dirty; we make them protect their toys. In doing so, we often limit their imagination and stifle their adventurousness.
Not to be nostalgic, but I didn’t have those limitations when I was a kid. There’s an internet meme (several actually) about the childhood of my generation. Our parents expected us at the dinner table and home at a decent hour for bedtime, but we were sent outside to play for the rest of the day. We left our toys in the sandbox to get rained upon and grimy. We climbed trees without supervisions. We played hide-and-seek in the woods. We even (don’t be shocked) used the bank of a major highway for sledding in the winter. At the top of that hill, we were less than ten feet away from vehicles speeding on wet and sometimes slippery roads.
Ok, so there is good reason for the limitations. The playground rules came into effect after a boy died from falling headfirst from the top of a large slide onto macadam. I can’t imagine what would have happened if a car had slipped and crashed into the guard rail when we were waiting for our turn to sled down the hill. In so many ways, the world seems to be a more dangerous place. We don’t let our children out of our sight not only for their physical well-being, but because we are afraid they will be kidnapped. Our attitudes have a positive effect, too. Experts suggest that organized play is good for the growth and maturity of our children.
My feet were black in the summer from running around barefoot on the streets; my hair was sun-bleached white with a hint of green from the chlorine from the pool where I lived from dawn to dusk during the summer (that’s how my feet usually got clean.) I was a red, pruney, green haired child with dirty feet. But we had fun. We chased lightning bugs at night and played flashlight tag throughout our neighborhood with the only boundaries being common sense and fairness. We had Monopoly games that lasted weeks, left set up in the basement where it was started until there wasn’t any money left to win. We ice skated on the field behind our house when it had an inch or so of ice. We used whatever we could find to make whatever our imagination could dream.
The people who designed the playground in Wrexham realized that we have stolen our children’s freedom, their adventurousness, and we’ve made them too afraid to imagine anything for themselves. We have strangled their imaginations by telling them they can’t play the games they want to play or create the world that will help them become strong, bold, creative adults that are unafraid to try something new or to go out on their own.
The Land is a playground that looks more like a junkyard and was built in 2011. It is filled with stuff: old tires, cement drainage pipes, broken toys, pallets, ropes, and wheelbarrows. There is even an old couch. A hill leads to a creek. One mother told the story of her son’s first visit to The Land. He met another boy who convinced him to get into a large recycle bin which was lying on its side at the top of the hill. The plan was to push him over the edge so that he’d roll into the creek. The water was cold and the mother had no change of clothes. The strange boy was being kind to her son, comforting and encouraging, so she let it go. He had a blast, got out of the creek, and went running with his friend to try something new.
Nothing is off limits. They even allow the children to start fires, which often end with a large group gathered around laughing at stories and jokes. There is adult supervision, but not much. Most mothers do not even enter The Land; they just drop their children off to play. The workers don’t stop the children from doing anything stupid, although they are there to ensure that no one gets seriously hurt. Despite the minimal adult interference, the children never leave with more than a few scratches. The children just have fun. They build forts with pallets that are piled way too high. They roll tires down the hill into the creek. They use the rope swing to get from one side of the creek to the other, or they just fall in. They play. They create. They imagine. They go on an adventure with the freedom to be themselves.
They don’t come out unscathed. They end up with rope burns on their hands and splinters from the pallets. I’m sure many knees are skinned when the fort collapses under the weight of too many children. They learn from their mistakes and work harder to build a stronger fort the next time. They eat dirt, rip their clothes, and get dirty from head to foot. But they have fun, they learn to overcome their fears and they find ways to get along with strangers.
Have you ever thought about why God lets us sin? After all, He’s God. He created us. He could have made us differently so that we would not be disobedient to Him. He could have set limitations on where we could go or what we could do. He didn’t. He gave us the freedom to be ourselves, to learn from our mistakes. We suffer the consequences, although those are usually more than just a skinned knee. We end up with broken relationships. God hopes that we will grow and mature as we learn from the consequences of our sin.
We want to stop our children from making mistakes so that they won’t get hurt. Yet, we know they have to fail once in a while, or they will never grow and mature. We walk on that fine line between allowing them to do something stupid and protecting them from themselves. God walks the same line. That internet meme talks about all the stupid things we did as children, like riding a bike without a helmet and skating on thin ice, but in the end we survived. We do some pretty stupid things in God’s kingdom, but God loves us so much that He forgives us and by His Spirit transforms us, giving us wisdom and peace so that we’ll not only survive, but we’ll glorify Him with thanksgiving and praise before the world.
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