Fun frightens me a bit. As a product of a strong work ethic from both sides of my family, I grew up believing that all work must be completed before indulging in play. Since the work never seemed to end, a time for play rarely felt appropriate. Even when I worked hard enough to earn a little relaxation, I tried to justify this free time to be sure it wasn’t “wasted,” by focusing on activities that were educational or strengthened me for more work.
Because of this predisposition, when I’ve spoken about the value of fantasy and science fiction, I’ve focused on what it can achieve: the rich symbolism, the powerful theological concepts that can be conveyed, the life-changing images that can inform our journey. I felt compelled to emphasize direct intellectual and spiritual benefits in order to defend the benefit of time spent reading novels.
Affirming the pragmatic value of reading fiction can be useful to counter naysayers. For example, studies show reading novels may increase empathy. That’s the sort of fact that can help me feel virtuous about my crowded bookshelves.
But let’s be real. Fiction is also fun!
Part of the appeal of speculative fiction is the fun of sword fights, and strange settings, and imaginative creatures. Or time travel, alternate universes, and mind-bending inventions. In a real world of clamoring conflict and soul-crushing burdens, a visit to an invented universe can give our minds a safe place to play.
During a particular tough season of life full of health issues, financial setbacks, and broken cars, I invited friends from church to play a Star Trek Next Generation mystery-solving game. We all wore costumes and I used gelatin to make Klingon gagh. The laughter and play distracted me from my struggles. Mere escapism? Maybe. That’s how many view reading novels. But it was childlike fun. After playing a character in another time and place, I returned to my real life with a fresh perspective.
The daily grind can give us tunnel vision. We push against obstacle after obstacle until all we see are the problems. Recreation can “re-create” our souls. When we try on a different world and a new story, we find new parts of ourselves and bring new ideas to our experience.
For many years, I had another issue that held me back from fully embracing fun. Because of the great needs in our world, and the Great Commission of our Savior, (www.biblegateway.com/passage/Matthew2028:16-20)
I carry a sense of urgency to share the Gospel. Not a bad yearning. But after growing up memorizing verses about making the most of the time, I developed a very driven focus to life. I lost sight of the truth that Jesus is the One who has provided salvation. I subconsciously pressured myself to be a “savior” to the world, endlessly working for His Kingdom. I never articulated it, but it was as if I thought that without my striving and efforts, His plans would fail. When we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, we’ve set our shoulders in the wrong place.
I have come to realize that fun is a gracious gift from God. He invites us to experience the joy of play and exploration—time that doesn’t have to be pinpointed as “useful.” Being willing to have fun is a brave acknowledgement that God can run the universe without us. He is not frantic, desperate, or stressed about His plans and purposes. He created us humans with a need to stop and eat, to sleep, and yes, to imagine, dream, and engage with stories beyond our practical lives.
I no longer feel quite so defensive about enjoying speculative novels. A baldric and sword rest in my closet. A banner representing a clan in my novel The Restorer hangs in my office, a gift from a reader. I sip my tea from a mug that another friend gave me because it reminded her of the Sword of Lyric series. My shelves sag under the works of Lewis, L’engle, Tolkien, and Lawhead, as well as various Star Trek and Star Wars novels and many Enclave authors. Why? Because they are fun.
Still uneasy about the idea of fun? Look through Scripture for the many references to feasts. Jesus even describes heaven as a wedding feast. These feasts aren’t about meeting the pragmatic need for food. They are about fun! Since our Savior hints that heaven will be fun, I’m happy to begin practicing now.
Join the conversation: What are your favorite fun elements of speculative fiction? Do you ever struggle with the concept of play and fun and recreation? Have you been scolded by others for loving fantasy and science fiction?
Sharon writes “stories for the hero in all of us” – uplifting and entertaining novels about ordinary people called to extraordinary challenges.
She’s won several Carol awards for both contemporary Christian fiction and fantasy, and was a Christy finalist for The Restorer – a genre-blending adventure of a soccer-mom in an alternate world.
She holds an M.A. in communication, and worked for many years in arts ministry. In her various roles over the years as wife, mom, grandmother, church worker, choreographer, and writer, she has loved learning how God’s grace pours into our lives in the midst of our weakness.
When she isn’t wrestling with words, Sharon enjoys speaking to conferences, retreats, and church groups. She and her family make their home in the mid-western United States.
I really enjoyed this post! And I can relate to much of what you said. The Sword of Lyric series is amazing. Even though I don’t relate to Susan’s stage of life, I was SO happy to read about a mom being sucked into another world instead of the teenage daughter. I struggle to feel a connection with teenage heroines now that I’m in my mid-20s. Seeing it from Susan’s perspective was different, unique, FUN, and *more* relatable for this oddball than if it had been a teen. And Mark? What a great husband.<3 But not so perfect that he felt unrealistic.
Favorite elements. . .I like reading about outlandish places with crazy fashion (Naboo?), ridiculous governments (Unity Village, USE?),
magical dwelling places (Asgard?), and noble men (Obi-Wan?).
While drama and conflict have a natural place in fiction, I like (need) happy endings. Life is hard and this world is full of evil and sadness; I don't need more of it when I sit to relax and read a good book. Happy endings all the way! 🙂
Though I gratefully can't recall exact scenarios, I know I have been scolded for wasting time with books and writing. Especially writing. Which produces writers' block. :/
We own 2 copies of the 4 Restorer books in my house, and I'm purchasing another copy for my sister's bday. 🙂 Your books are well loved in Montana.
Thanks for sharing, Anna! I’m sorry you were ever scolded for “wasting” time with books and writing…and I know how that voice can bring on writers’ block. Keep playing. Keep drawing close to Jesus as you craft stories. It is worth it.
Nina Ruth Bruno
This is wonderful and I can so relate to the struggle of Grace. I also come from a high work ethic background, and so, for example, just having the flu the past 48 hours I have felt so frustrated and frightened because I was incapable of doing anything during this time. Yet a close look at the gospels shows us that Jesus was not only intentional, he is also playful! I believe that Psalm 45 speaks of him saying that he is Anointed with the oil of Joy above all others! Science Fiction and Fantasy are more than just escapism, they often bring great joy! I found myself both lost, and found, in Lyric!
Nina Ruth, isn’t it odd that when we are suffering, instead of resting in His grace, we let our thoughts berate us sometimes? I believe Jesus when He says His burden is light. In a world full of need, we want to serve others … but there is also a place for rest and play. We often meet Him more fully in those places.
This is fantastic. I heartily agree!
Thanks, Paul! I’m sure for most people this is just common sense, but I’m a bit slow sometimes and it’s taken me a long time to realize. 🙂
Fun is quite a foreign concept to some of us! Country kids had chores, 4-H and preparations for life survival. During our years at Iowa State U. it was necessary to keep focused on studies, or else lower than a C- & you were gone…like Viet Nam! Rearing our boys…focused again…they were the most important people in our lives. Now, retired, it’s church work of all sorts, tutoring, mentoring children and prison ministry. Fun now, is a bike ride, walk in the woods, watching birds, gardening, visiting w/neighbors, friends and maybe reading historical fiction & non-fiction. That’s just how it is. “Fun” can be joy, celebration, or quietness that take a variety of shapes.
Hi, Sydra, I so relate to what you shared – your life of service and hard work. I think it’s so wise that you can find fun IN the work. That seems to me to be a very helpful attitude.:-)
I love this post. I myself don’t typically struggle with allowing myself to have fun, but like every other human on this earth I struggle with vast host of other things. The honesty and truth in this post, as well as the simplicity is lovely to read.
I love your books Sharon, like seriously, they are in my top 10 series list. You have inspired me many times over.
Thanks for sharing
Corrie Lavina Knight
I struggle with this, too, in addition to struggling with debilitating health conditions that consume a lot of time in my life. As a result, I bounce back and forth between not being physically capable of even doing menial things such as housework, and being physically capable of going places and doing things—which means the housework needs to be second priority. Then I sit and read, write, or discuss the Bible and Jesus with Hindu and Muslim friends on Facebook, choosing that over housework because either I’m physically not able to housework today, or sharing the gospel is more important. Then my poor husband comes home with his own super strong work ethic to feel like he’s not able to rest after a long day at work because housework needs to be done.
In recent months, I finally learned I need to schedule fun into my life, rather than trying to fit it in wherever it can happen around the edges of important stuff. This has made it easier to balance the demands of housework and working from home (I’m a freelance copyeditor and proofreader), along with the health struggles. My husband and I have worked on this together, and he recently called me on Friday afternoon to say, “Let’s go out to eat and see a movie tonight.” We saw The Greatest Showman on the big screen, and enjoyed a date night for the first time in…well, I can’t remember the last time we simply went on a date.
Thanks so much, Gabriellyn! I’m so so glad the books have been a blessing to you.
Thanks for sharing, Corrine. I’ve noticed (also dealing with disabling health issues) that I feel like if I have a bit of function, I should ONLY use it for work that needs my attention….as if a chronically ill person shouldn’t “waste” functional times on fun. But the opposite if probably true. We need those moments that feed our souls! Fun is important! (And my daughter took me to see The Greatest Showman – I love musicals!)