2. Leadership Is Child’s Play: Merriment

2. Leadership Is Child’s Play: Merriment

2. Leadership Is Child’s Play: On Merriment As The Spirit of Leadership.

“Lord, according to Thy words, I have considered Thy birds…

Considering, I see that they have a busy life, and plenty of play…

It cometh therefore to this, Lord:

I have considered Thy word, and henceforth will be Thy bird.” 

(excerpted from an old hymn translated by George MacDonald).

There is a playful light-heartedness to leadership that is not taken seriously enough. Maybe some leaders just don’t have a personality that expresses much merriment. Perhaps the leader has succumbed to that cranky old pride that often comes with power. Maybe the burdens of leadership weigh heavily on the shoulders of the leader. And sometimes the work itself doesn’t bring much joy to the leader. Whatever the reason, gladness remains a hidden secret to effective leadership. Leaders can indeed be task-oriented and still retain a spark of merriment. Even burdened leaders need to work at welcoming light-heartedness. To be open to merriment doesn’t mean the leader is always laughing and wearing a smile. There undoubtedly are moments in which cheerfulness is not reasonable. Nonetheless, an effective leader is one who is poised to experience genuine gladness when the timing is right. Godly leaders are not afraid to lean into their underlying joy in their leadership. They are open to demonstrating and spreading merriment in their working environment. A glad spirit may be hidden at times, but it can remain part of the undergirding face of leadership.

The following quotes are insightful ideas regarding merriment, play and leadership:

A. A thought about not taking oneself too seriously.

“A characteristic of the great saints is their levity. Angels can fly, because they can take themselves lightly. There was a deep levity in the Middle Ages. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One settles down into a sort of selfish seriousness, but one has to rise to a (merry) self-forgetfulness. Seriousness is not a virtue. Seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because  it is the easiest thing to do. For solemnity flows out of people naturally, but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light. Satan fell by force of gravity.” (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy).

B. Thoughts on Work and Play.

“It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play, it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task-garden; heaven is a playground.” (G. K. Chesterton).

“The life of God is simultaneously work and rest, because all God does, working and resting, He does with the majestic ease of play.” (St. Augustine, Confessions).

“Salvation must mean, in part, the marriage, or rather the remarriage of work and play. And if we are already privy to foretastes of the Kingdom here and now, then signs of its fruition must appear in playful, felicitous labor.”  (Eugene McCarraher). 

“I was there when Yahweh set the heavens in place, when He gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep His command, and when He marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was the craftsman at His side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in His presence, rejoicing in His whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Proverbs 8:27-31).

C.  A description of Christian gladness and mirth.

“Our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

D. St. Theresa of Avila displayed little patience with the melancholy spirit. With her dour sisters in the convent she led, she was known to say, “From frowning saints, good Lord deliver us!

“She would speak familiarly to all, with gaiety and affection, in no way austere or grim, and with a holy, gentle, pleasing freedom; so that anyone who saw her so, and knew what were her relations with God, was astonished that she, who had been raised to such heights of prayer, and who spoke so familiarly with God, could speak to others just as if she had been given none of that.” (Three Mystics).

E.  King David wasn’t shy about playing the merry fool.

“And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen loincloth. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sounding of the horns. As the Ark of the Lord came into the city of David,  Michal looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing and whirling around before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart… Michal came out to meet David and said to him, “How the King of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself.” And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father, and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel – and I will make merry before the Lord.” (2 Samuel 6).

F. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was the living embodiment of light-hearted service in dire circumstances. Every day after Mass she engaged herself in a seemingly hopeless ministry to the dying and the “poorest of the poor.” She once said her tireless joy comes from doing her work for Someone (God) rather than something (social work). She once defined joy as a “a net of love by which you can catch souls.” ( A Gift for God).

G. G. K. Chesterton, in his biography of St. Francis, wrote that Francis considered himself “God’s Troubadour,” a “sort of court fool of the King of Paradise.” He referred to his brothers as jugglers or jesters of God. Commenting on this Franciscan spirit at work, Chesterton noted, “There was to be found ultimately in such service a freedom almost amounting to frivolity… It was compatible to the condition of the juggler. The whole point about St. Francis is that he certainly was ascetical, and he certainly was not gloomy.”  (Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi).

H. Elton Trueblood once wrote about combining merriment with mercy.

“That mirth and compassion are compatible is one of the greatest lessons mankind can learn. The fact that Abraham Lincoln was a notable teller of funny stories did not hinder, in the least, his expression of profound pathos in the Second Inaugural. We can say of him, that he possessed “a  mirth consistent with tender compassion for all that is frail, and with profound reverence for all that is sublime.” Any alleged Christianity which fails to express itself in gaiety, at some point, is clearly spurious. The Christian is (merry), not because he is blind to injustice and suffering, but because he is convinced that these, in the light of divine sovereignty, are never ultimate. Though he can be sad, and often is perplexed, he is never really worried. If Christ laughed a great deal, as the evidence shows, and if He is what He claimed to be, we cannot avoid the logical conclusion that there is laughter and gaiety in the heart of God.” (Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ).

I. Thomas Howard once offered this insight to college students in a chapel service.

“I myself have wondered, now and again, whether a sense of humor is not a sort of natural capacity in us humans that’s some sort of a reflection of holiness. Humor has something to do with humility – pompous people can’t laugh. And with simplicity – sophisticated people can only offer tinkling and silvery mockery. And with purity of heart – lechers and gluttons can only leer. And with grace – clods and oafs can only grunt. And with charity – egotists are seldom amused. I think the saints are full of merriment. I want to introduce my children to at least the early reaches of those hilarious regions that we call Glory.”  (Gordon College, 1979).

J. Writer John Neuhaus once commented on the adventure of finding Christian joy and playfulness.

“The call to follow Christ is an invitation to splendor, to live in truth. There is no place for whining or self-pity. Precisely in the face of the encroaching darkness, in the face of all that would drain away life’s joy, one defiantly lifts a tankard in tribute to the Crucified King. There is a wildness to God’s mercy, and a wildness to being a Christian in the world. Life is a noble game played in the presence of God.” (1995).

K. G. K. Chesterton once commented that saints like Paul and Silas could sing in jail (Acts 16) because they had a “cosmic contentment.” They remembered that they “live in a gloomy town but a (merry) universe.” (Orthodoxy).

Jesus wants His followers to enjoy a deep heartfelt gladness.

“I love each of you with the same love that the Father loves me. You must continually let my love nourish your hearts. If you keep my commands, you will live in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands, for I continually live nourished and empowered by His love. My purpose for telling you these things is so that the joy that I experience will fill your hearts with overflowing gladness.” (John 15:11). “But now I am returning to you Father. I pray that they will experience and enter into my joyous delight in You, so that this joy is fulfilled in them and overflows.” (John 17:13).