Going too far: a spiritual challenge.

Reading the work of a gifted student on children’s spirituality and play I started to think about the element of play which is Going Too Far (think ‘this time, children, you have gone too far..’)


Your five and three-year-old are in the playroom with their cousin, also three. They are playing with dressing up clothes, a tea set, and various dolls and soft toys. You have stepped into the kitchen to make some lunch. You can hear a hum of conversation and some giggles as they play. All is well.  A short time later your radar picks up a slightly different note in the laughter. You instinctively put down the tomato you are chopping and move toward the door. The laughter becomes uncontainable. You move in. The sight that meets you as you peep around the door is familiar to all parents. The children who were quietly playing three minutes ago are now (a) marching about the room, military style, without a stitch on, daubed with blue and green paint; (b) giving the dog a haircut having dressed her up as Dobby the house elf (‘but Dobby hasn’t got any hair!’); (c) jumping from the windowsill into the doll’s cot (older two jumping, younger one in the cot); (d) any other of a thousand scenarios which represent going too far. Depending on the risk to life, limb and furniture, and the current state of your nerves, you may withdraw, join the laughter or intervene firmly.

As parents we know that children have to test boundaries. Although we are responsible for teaching them to behave safely and considerately we know that unless they try things out they may grow up to be unable to take healthy risks or to assert their needs and preferences, or to live a little and have some fun. Part of the fun of going too far is knowing it, and that there will be a mighty reaction when you are caught! Children know that we want them to be compliant, but it is their job to discover that there is more to life!

Going too far and spirituality.

As Christians we may feel that God wants us to be compliant. The lesson from an early age is that God wants us to be good – to observe boundaries and know our place. God’s pleasure is closely related to keeping our bedroom tidy and not fighting with our siblings. The carol says: Christian children all must be, mild, obedient, good as he… This doesn’t really change when we grow up.

Deep down though, we know there is more to life with God.  We see those who passionately believe and love and act and we feel that they are closer to the Reign of God. There comes a time when compliance is not enough.  The Holy Spirit has a reputation for stepping over the boundaries and guiding others to do the same: The wind blows where it wills… so it is with those who are born of the Spirit (Jn 3:8).

Deep down we know that beyond our religious compliance there is a wild adventure out there for us with God – that life to the full is scarier and more exhilarating than we could have imagined.  We know that the Spirit is ready to be the older sibling who defies the boundaries and, with uncontainable laughter, will lead us on.

Author: realmofsparks

Anne Francis is a Pastoral/Practical theologian and spiritual care practitioner. She has a Pastoral Supervision practice and is author of 'Called: Women in Ministry in Ireland.'

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