The Wisdom of Pass the Pigs

I was already well into my day—bed made, breakfast prepared, email beaten back—when my fingers hit the small plastic figures in my pocket. I was reaching for a tube of lip balm at the time, mentally somewhere else, preparing for the next event on my schedule. As a mother, it’s not unusual for me to be surprised by the variety of items that end up in my purse or other places for quick storage and easy retrieval. But the pigs gave me pause.

My daughter, who was two at the time, started carrying around the case for these little creatures a few months ago. The animals themselves are just the right size for small hands to manipulate and enjoy, and I often find them wedged into the cracks of her car seat or dropped from drooping palms once she finally, finally falls asleep at night. I’m fairly sure that’s how they ended up in my pants that day, rescued from the nether regions underneath her bed in an attempt to keep the favored toy/object of delight safe. Unlike other items around the house, we don’t have a backup for these tiny porcine figures.

We were gifted with these little guys nearly a decade ago now, sometime during our engagement period, in the surreal and whirlwind time between “yes” and “I will.” We were in pre-marital counseling, a common thing, and were working with our pastor and his wife to dig through and acknowledge before God and our community any major issues that needed to be addressed before we stepped forward to vow our lives to each other before God.

My husband and I, I must confess, are overthinkers. We love things contemplative, we watch challenging movies for entertainment, we like to engage with the issues of the day. We are continually talking to each other about our relationship with God, our experiences with Scripture, our sense of our calling in the world. Ken and Sallie, who were walking us through all the common unexamined issues in a romantic relationship, continually came up against the reality that we’d already prayed and talked about the big, hard things.

Which was why we had one standing piece of homework to work on before each session with them: Have more fun.

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“A Christian should be an Alleluia from head to foot”

― Augustine of Hippo

I have a confession to make, and it is a big one. It is easier for me to see God in the mundane and repetitive realities of my everyday life—making the bed, taking a shower, cleaning the dishes—than it is for me to experience God in the moments of ordinary play or quotidian delight that may come my way in the midst of my days. Perhaps I’ve read Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God too many times, or maybe I’m such a naturally melancholy personality that I’m more easily drawn to suffering than to festivity. Either way, I’m woefully deficient in something both Richard Foster and Dallas Willard call the discipline of celebration.

In his book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, Foster writes, “The carefree spirit of joyous festivity is absent in contemporary society. Apathy, even melancholy, dominates the times.” To be clear, Foster’s book was originally published nearly 40 year ago. And yet our lack of joy is still pervasive.

“Celebration is central to all the spiritual disciplines,” Foster continues. “Without a joyful spirit of festivity the disciplines becomes dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every discipline should be characterized by a carefree gaiety and a sense of thanksgiving.”

Death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees.

While the phrase cuts me deeply, it is also deeply true. When I live my life—my every day getting up, brushing my teeth, doing the dishes life—with a sense that every thing, which sacred, is also a somber act of devotion, I am living under a heavy burden of expectation and piety. It’s important, revolutionary even, to see our small daily acts of living as acts of worship and communion with God. But when engage in making my bed wearing a spirit of seriousness, or live under the pressure of making prayer a part of my child’s life out of duty instead of desire, I’m taking up the heavy yoke of discipline without delight. And that’s a yoke I was never meant to carry.

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“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by all her children.”

Luke 7:33-35, NKJV


Throughout the day I find myself fiddling absent-mindedly with the little pigs in my pocket. The game from which they come is deceptively simple and completely silly. Pass the Pigs is essentially a dice game, except the dice you play with are the pigs. Whatever position they land in determines the points you receive: more common positions like one called “Sider”—where a pig lands on its side—are worth less points, more complex positions like one called “Double Razorback” are worth more. There’s even a reset position (racily named “Makin’ Bacon”) that clears everyone’s points back to zero.

During those months of pre-marital counseling, it was not uncommon for my (now) husband and me to realize in contrition the night before our next appointment that we hadn’t actually done anything fun during the intervening weeks. Our fall back was a movie night, but our friends started inviting us for game nights as a way of helping us with our homework. Still, we gravitated toward strategy games—we seriously own a game called Mystery of the Abbey which is a marvelously weird combination of Clue and a practice of the Divine Hours—instead of pure, pointless playfulness.

Hence the present of Pass the Pigs. Which was more intervention that gift, really.

In the passage above in Luke, Jesus is reminding his followers that the religious people of his day both discounted the ascetics of John (he has a demon!) and the ordinary celebrations of Jesus (he’s a foodie and an alcoholic!) as over the top, unnecessary, uncomfortably commonplace.

But wisdom is justified by all her children, he concludes. In other words, when we seek holiness, we seek wisdom. Wisdom, in turn, may look like locusts and honey for John, and wine at wedding feasts for Jesus. It may look like embracing a daily practice of doing the dishes cheerfully for you, and a daily practice of engaging in play for me. These are wisdom’s children.

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This isn’t a story of victory and celebration, however. Wisdom’s children are still growing in our house.

We started out with good intentions, definitely. After getting our gift of Pass the Pigs, we played it at least three times before it ended up in one of the drawers in our kitchen that collects stray things. We even wrote a thank you card to the giver, full of words about how we would dedicate ourselves to the daily practice of play.

Days rolled into weeks rolled into months rolled into years before my daughter fished the game out from wherever it had ended up. And a few more months rolled by before I found the pigs in my pocket, and spend the rest of the day rolling them around in my palm—both a meditation and a prayer of repentance.

I will tell you, though, that the thing that has surprised me most about the past five years of parenthood has been all the laughter. The gracious hand of God, which gave us the gift of our daughter, also crafted into this child of wisdom a voracious sense of play. From making faces at us across the room to noticing the way the birds gather on our feeder outside to repeated requests to “chase me, Mama!”, the invitation to wonder, to celebrate, to revel in the delightful ordinariness of day to day realities is nearly constant.

The plastic pigs in my pocket are only one of many, many small reminders to practice play each day, to experience God not in the melancholy, the silent or the contemplative, but in the silly, simple, and child-like. In God’s upside down, ordinary extraordinary kingdom, I’m finally learning the formation of celebration from my very own child.