Playing Freely

By Ben Lee


He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction. (Malachi 4:6)

My boys tackled me from behind the other evening. “C’mon, Dad, let’s wrestle,” they shrieked, filling the air with peals of laughter. They proceeded to begin tickling me. With a smile, I set aside the book I had been reading and sprang to my feet, swiftly catapulting my youngest across the floor in the process.

“You’re so easy, Dad. Is that all you’ve got?” he teased as he picked himself up and charged towards me without missing a beat.

And so it went. For the next half hour, we wrestled, rolled, tumbled, and laughed. We played hard. And it was good.

Many of you know the pure joy of spontaneous play—the kind where time stands still and the burdens of the day briefly disappear. It continued as we headed to bed.

“I love you, Maddie,” I said with a grin as I darted towards their bedroom.

“I love you, too, Dad. I love you the most,” he responded, winking at his brother. The next game had begun.
“I love you the most-est, dad,” Aidan chimed in.

“I love you guys the most-est-est,” I declared, reaching for their devotion book as they dove headfirst into bed.
We continued, each new measurement surpassing the last.

“I love you the infinity-est times infinity and beyond, Dad!!” they said in unison. It was settled. They laughed and threw their arms around me.

As they said their bedtime prayers, I whispered in my heart, “Show me what Malachi saw as he described the turning of hearts.” Since then, I’ve become convinced he pictured something along the lines of our pre-bedtime games.

I don’t know about you, but even in play, I often have to remind myself to let go and enjoy the moment. It’s easy to get caught up in the lie that I have to perform adequately, whatever that means, before I can give and receive love—like when the boys come home with a C, and I tell myself, “If only you were a better parent, then they would get better grades.” I can get stuck thinking we have to measure up to deserve each other’s affections. My boys, though, don’t think that way, especially when it’s time to play. Love doesn’t either.

Love is relentless and doesn’t hold back. I truly cherish my boys’ lack of inhibition, both in play and in life. They live in the moment; they aren’t afraid to risk it all and reveal their truest selves. In fact, I doubt the notion of living any less than wholeheartedly even crosses their minds. I love that.

I can always tell when my boys and I are living authentically. It always looks the same—giving thanks and affirmation, regardless of their grades or what’s going on, not because it’s comfortable or easy, but because our worth was established on the cross when Jesus gave his life for us; turning away from how-to’s, control, and performance-driven “love,” which are rooted in fear and shame; and turning towards the heart of our Father.

The truth is that God loves us passionately, apart from what we do, so much so that he turned towards us even as we turned away.

And that is the greater story—the one I pray I will live out with my boys and the one in which we all can find our own.



Ben Lee is a father, rock climber, and cyborg extraordinaire. He loves disrupting the status quo and impacting people’s lives. Ben has a passion for innovation, a penchant for hard problems, and an obsession with good design. When he’s not busy building or daydreaming about new ventures, you can typically find him hanging off the side of a mountain, testing the limits of his titanium leg, running through the woods with his two boys, Maddie and Aidan, or serving on the production team at The Cove Church.


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