Kelsey Kleier

There’s a playful piece of my personality I just can’t shake. Racing my pastor down the aisle of the church sanctuary just to try and beat him to the stage. Hiding under my desk to scare a coworker when she walks in. Carrying board games in the trunk of my car.

words + photographs KELSEY KLEIER

I love a good game, a good prank, a good chance to laugh. Because, just like you, I live in a world that makes me weary. In a culture that is increasing in tension and demanding divisiveness, I am learning that lighthearted fun affords me a chance to grow and enrich the lives of those around me.

Kelsey, in skirt and baseball hat, lived in Lesotho, a small country in Africa, for two years after graduating from Drury University.

Tearing Down Barriers

I spent two years after my undergraduate working as a missionary in a small African country. When I landed in Lesotho, I knew very few words in the Sesotho language. I could manage basic greetings, but the minute someone spoke back to me, all I could do was smile and nod. I worked as a teacher in a primary school. During class, the teachers would help me translate, but come lunch break, I was on my own. Thankfully, playing is also my favorite part of any day, and laughter is a universal language. I spent the recess hours learning new games with the Basotho children – and inevitably, we loved each other more after each game. We could communicate nothing other than an occasional word in either English or Sesotho, but those hours spent playing worked to tear down our differences in ethnicity and language and culture

Authentic Relationships

Taking time to play tears down barriers between people, which ultimately results in more genuine interaction. When we play, not only are we working towards something together and sharing an experience, we are less inclined to guard our social and emotive responses. If I want know someone’s true personality, I need to play a game with them. Why? Because playing brings out the best – and the worst – in our personalities. Someone who is an encourager and others-oriented will probably trend this way, even in the heat of competition. My sister is like this. In high school basketball, her team was running to the other end of the court while she was picking up the girl on the other team who had fallen down. She couldn’t help it; that’s just who she is. Unfortunately, too many of us (myself included!) find ourselves face-to-face with our weaknesses when we are playing a game.

Kelsey and her sister, Taylor.

But isn’t this a more authentic way to live? Instead of boasting in our strengths and suppressing our weaknesses, playing removes the façade of perfection and serves as a potent reminder that we are unique and complex and completely in need of help.

Dealing Life

Engaging in play exposes areas of our lives that would otherwise be closed off to others. And yet, there is beauty here, because this affords others an opportunity to speak truth into our lives. When I lived overseas, there was a gentle, servant-hearted South African man who would visit us from time to time. Every moment we spent with him and his family was a pleasure, and like a sponge, I longed to soak in the truth that came from years of his faithful walk with Jesus. Once I asked him what he had been learning from his Bible reading. “Life and death are in the power of the tongue,” he said, quoting Proverbs 18:21.

Barriers down, authentically engaging in relationships, play allows us to speak life into those around us, to call out the good we see in others. We live in a world that divides, that tears down, that says to be the best, we have to tread on others. Americans have literally made play out of others’ failures – we call it “making fun” of someone. Shame on us. What if, instead of making fun out of someone’s weakness, people in our world spent time celebrating the beautiful things in others around them?

What if, instead of making fun out of someone’s weakness, people in our world spent time celebrating the beautiful things in others around them?

TOP Kelsey, left, her cousins and Grammy dyeing eggs at Easter. BOTTOM Kelsey, left, with a friend at church.

Playing gives us a chance to laugh, to be creative, to take a break from the weariness of the world. But the joy of playing goes beyond personal gain. Shared laughter around volleyball or board games or playing outside in the sprinkler erases social barriers, provides more genuine relationships, and affords us the blessing of affirming the good we see in others.

So – go have a watermelon seed-spitting contest. Embrace your make-believe role in a game of pretend with your kids. Or, if you’re really brave, dust off the old cornhole set and invite some friends over. Imagine. Laugh. Affirm. Encourage. Let the experiences you share with those you love make you all the richer. KK