The Gift of Goofing Off

My main “tell” with feeling comfortable is acting like a goofball — up to and including funny voices, tangential musings, and general physical comedy. If you haven’t seen what a giant dork I am, it’s because we aren’t there yet.

The more I dig into my specific ways of connecting with others, the more I realize how crucial it is for me to goof off around loved ones. That someone can see my silly, and either match me, or, as my friend Kat does, giggle and lovingly say “oh my god, you nerd” makes me feel seen and truly loved for my authentic self. My authentic self being Liz Lemon.

My tendency the past couple of years was to value seriousness above all else. I still appreciate that facet of me: being a deep feeler, an existentialist, a student of the human condition. Between spiritual direction studies, my own therapy explorations, recently joining a Brene Brown “Daring Way” group at church, the topics I read and write, and the general content of most conversations with friends — I am a glutton for self awareness and seriousness. And some days, it leaves me miserable, exhausted, and a little bored. So after a few years of Kat touting the importance of play, I’m finally beginning to understand.

In therapy, we’re exploring a lot of my childhood, and last week I told my therapist about Sheny. Sheny is an important person in my story: she raised me from age 6 to 12 while Mom was at work, introduced me to Christianity, and once saved my life from an attack dog. Despite daily responsibilities of both childcare and house cleaning, she was incredibly attentive and engaging with my sister and me. She would play pretend without hesitation, create inside jokes, and encouraged us to be loud and exuberant with our excitement. Often she’d be louder than us, which both delighted and overwhelmed me.

When I was 7, Sheny, my sister, and I would go into the backyard to the white alder trees and collect seeds from the branches. The seeds were actually hundreds of seeds tightly packed into one small cone-like shape. We’d roll the cones between our hands to release all the little seeds, then throw it all in the air, and dance around, yelling loudly as the seeds fell around us.

I ended up doing something very similar in high school at my flower shop job with the rose petals I’d sweep up from the floor. It got to the point that my coworkers would save rose petals for me in buckets, just so I could throw them in the air and dance around while everyone laughed. Then I’d be on sweep duty.

That freedom of expression, and the communal affirmation is something I’m finding at my job at the Episcopal Diocese. I make jokes, laugh with my coworkers over ridiculous internet memes, and sometimes weave humor into my designs (when presenting 3 options). I call my coworker on the phone and he answers with a faux “WHAT do you want?” Or when the next door Grace Cathedrals bells chime, my officemate and I pop out of our chairs and do a minute of lazy jazzercise. I get my work done, but throughout the day I feel seen and appreciated. In fact, my boss during our 3 month review of my work this week noted my intentionality with “play” as an asset to the office!

I have found myself in a renaissance of silliness — valuing it a spiritual discipline. For some, play is a means of escape and avoidance. But for me it requires intention to let go of my serious pursuits for a period of time, my concern with appearances, and my need for control. Play seems to point to the holy for me, particularly now.

I know when Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14) that he was speaking more to a matter of social justice: though children were considered lowly in the culture of that time (like women) they too were equal citizens in the Kingdom of God. But these days I also wonder if there’s a similar invitation to each of our childlike selves too. That my inner child —the part of me that chases the dog around the apartment or initiates tickle fights with my boyfriend — is welcomed into the Kingdom as well.

It seems so often that those who appear to culture as less-than or imperfect are the very same invited into the Kingdom. I’ve heard this said in many lovely variations, feel all the warm fuzzies about God’s generosity, but when I start to turn this idea onto myself or those closest to me, it does not compute. One of the concepts in the Daring Way curriculum is “imperfection is what makes me lovable, not the opposite.” I deeply struggle to comprehend this concept. My default is a kind of friendly rigidity that I call an attempt at perfection. It all weaves into the ongoing narrative I allow to steer my life at times: you must earn love, it is not freely given. Yet that is not how God works, nor is the posture I’m invited to take. Being silly confronts this lie. My jokes won’t always land, a goofy face may involve a triple chin, and long arms in energetic movement sometimes knock things over. None of it looks like perfection, yet is what my loved ones celebrate about me. Anyone worthwhile isn’t going to count any of that against me.

I can intellectualize this all I want, but at the end of the day, I always check my gut. And in this season, trying to force old spiritual habits are NOT working. But when I lean into the silly — joking with a coworker, chasing the dog, or tickling my boyfriend— I feel released and content. This “frivolity” is a holy gift where I can trust God, feel accepted for my whole self, and not feel selfish while enjoying it. Which then reverberates out to how I see and care for others: loving them as they are, rather than my rigid expectations of who I think they should be. In terms of macro-life development and growth, I’m in a season of watering and waiting for sprouts. Being intentional with play helps channel my anxious, intentional, productive energy towards something that’ll help me trust and be patient with the process. I still bristle a bit at some of these ideas, but I sense the steady inner invitation of the divine in it.

And I roll my eyes, as I do sometimes at the Lord — who I trust gets some amusement out of my reaction.

[Banner photo by Emily Weiss, featuring Kat Schoolland.]

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