Lark toys

Remember to make time for play in your daily life. (Emily Carson)

How do you know when your heart and mind are out of balance? What are the physical, emotional and spiritual symptoms you exhibit when you’re not feeling like your authentic self?

Unhealthy levels of stress, worry, blame and fear manifest differently in all of us. Being conscious of your own patterns can empower you to more easily make the shifts that will help you to stay healthy.

When I’m out of balance, I stop being playful. That’s the single strongest sign that I’m not feeling like myself. Instead of waking up dancing and making up songs, I become fixated on productivity and work. Even conversations with my closest connections gets thrown by the wayside. A laser-like focus rules over every moment of the day, and fun takes a backseat.

I’m coming through a long stretch without consistent, unencumbered play. My vocational life has been full, and in the midst of it, I stopped giving myself permission to relax. I tried to manage the stress I was experiencing by working harder; industriousness became its own kind of idol.

That season is coming to a close. As the leaves change color, there are other changes afoot in our household, too. Justin, my husband, has now started his own business as a handyman and woodworker (Stoll Property Services). A long season of transition at my employer has moved into a time of consistency and clarity, and I’ve never felt more vocationally fulfilled than I do now.

As joyful as this new chapter is, I am aware that I could’ve more skillfully managed the in-between of the past year by stopping to dance and sing and be silly. I wish I had navigated all the change with more playfulness and less of a focus on perpetual productivity. Maybe I’ll remember this reflection the next time I enter into a period of uncertainty.

The good news is that my playfulness is returning. I’m giving myself permission to slow down. The other morning Justin noted over coffee, “You’re singing again. That’s good.”

My mother, Pam, and I recently visited Lark Toys in Kellogg. That, too, was a place of great amusement. Inside there was a beautiful carousel featuring hand-carved wooden animals upon which to ride. We had the whole place to ourselves and decided to go for a twirl.

The music played as we circled round and round. We invited the carousel’s attendant, Kathy, to take our photo when we got off; the picture is a reminder to me to embrace play with greater regularity.

Pay attention to your own patterns of behavior. If something is off-balance, notice it and respond with care. And if it’s playfulness you’re missing, I know of a perfect whimsical carousel that might be just what the Holy Spirit ordered. Perhaps it’s time to take a spin!

Holy Everything is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor serving at the Southeastern Minnesota Synod Office in Rochester. Visit her blog at

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