Love, Work, Play

I’ve been thinking about marriage a lot this summer since I was invited to three weddings. It raises reflections for me about the connection of love and marriage. While I was mulling this, I remembered a quote from Sigmund Freud stating that humans need two things in order to be satisfied; love and work. I can’t remember who added a third to that list, but it was play. Perhaps we need all three of these to have a healthy balance in our lives.

So let’s go on a journey with love, work and play and see where it takes us…

To be transparent about my relationship with love and marriage, I feel grateful that I’ve been unusually satisfied with the amount of love I’ve given and received in my life and yet my track record with marriage is less than stellar. I believe in marriage and all that it brings to those who embrace it sincerely, and, at the same time, I think of it as excruciatingly wonderful. Maybe this discrepancy is what draws me so strongly to ponder love and marriage.

Love is the most complicated, and in my experience the most misunderstood of the three human needs. Love, for me, means caring, shared memories, positive regard, respect, shared time, vulnerability, trust, presence in pain, ability to work through conflict without hostility, provision for one another, affection, appreciation. The finest marriages result in each partner becoming their best self with the support of their partner. Most marriages (and friendships) have a hard time measuring up to that standard day in and day out, but after all, we’re human. What confuses me is that, if we “know” that the one we’ve chosen to marry is the right one, why do 50% of marriages, even Christian marriages, end up in divorce. And the numbers are higher for second marriages. I grieve that in my soul. I know love asks a lot of us and most of us need to stretch and grow in order to be up to the task. Marriage is the beginning of our inner work as a couple, not the end. We come together to grow in each other’s company not to breathe a sigh of relief and slump into self-neglect.

If love is what I outlined above, is marriage the only way of knowing what love is? I think the culture (neighbors, friends, parents, the church, work associates, well meaning aunts/uncles, even magazines) would say yes, at least if you look at the focus churches place on marriage and family and the number of businesses associated with the marriage market. And just ask any single 30-year-old if she or he feels the pressure to “find” the right person to marry in order to feel normal. The latest US Census reports that more than 50% of adult Americans are single, 53% of them women, 47% of them men. That is astounding given that the cultural norm still seems to be married with two+ children.

Of course, we all need love. Whether married or single. Which I suggest means to love and be loved in return? How do we satisfy that desire, if marriage is not the only option? I will suggest four sources of love that I have observed to have satisfying effects on people’s hearts: friends, animals, nature and God. Let’s start with friends. Here I would include family, friends, teammates, mentors and military comrades, all of whom can give and receive love in their own ways. The animal option is a no-brainer; connections with pets and untamed animals are deep-seated ways of relating. Ask any pet owner or anyone who has swum with dolphins! And nature includes things like water, plants, trees, birds, mountains, flowers and prairies. Most of us yearn to be in nature since it restores something to us that we don’t seem to find any other way.

The fourth and, in my experience, the best way to receive and give love is with God. With God there is always a guarantee of being loved in return, no matter what (even better than pets who can hiss or growl!). God is a lasting presence that never leaves us, even if we lose our earthly relationships. I know many people have negative images of God from childhood, and I heartily encourage those who do to work with someone to help heal or change that image. For me, love is from God and includes all the things I mentioned in my definition of love. In addition, unlike some human love, God’s love is unconditional and unending. Even when we question God’s love or feel God is absent, God still waits patiently for us to once again allow divine love to flow into our hearts.

If we feel unconditionally loved by God, we are whole, no matter what our marital status; married, divorced, separated, single, committed. Our love is not dependent on other things, despite the cultural pressure and shame.

I also seems clear to me that single people can love and be loved, that married people can love and be loved, but that marriage does not guarantee love in the way I describe. One of the issues with marriage that I have experienced and seen others experience too, is that we look to our partner to meet our needs and when they don’t, we blame them. I think we are looking to them to fulfill something that we can only truly get from ourselves and from God, unconditional love. And if we do seek love primarily from God then we can honor the things that our spouse does give us instead of being disappointed in what they don’t give us. No human can meet all of our needs.

Everyone can feel love, needs to feel love, no matter what. I find this liberating and hopeful.

The forms of love in my life have been somewhat unusual since I lost my second parent by the time I was thirty-nine years old and I was estranged from my only brother due to alcohol. So my forms of love have been, not only with marriage partners, step-children and in-laws, but with a host of others. I have adopted brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and I have opened my heart to mentoring and friendship relationships with a group of amazing people, who give to me and receive from me as much love as I can handle. This kind of love includes emotional and spiritual intimacy, sharing of honest emotions and mutual good will. And it requires that I stay present to the relationships and not take them for granted.

Other kinds of love? I’ve had pets most of my life, mostly gentleman cats, but dogs as well, and I hold nature, especially birds, trees, flowers and moving water in high regard. Oh, and I have an ongoing love affair with the MN Twins.

If you are game, I’d like to invite you to reflect on love, especially on the people, pets and nature experiences that have given you a feeling of being loved. How did it change your life? And God, how does feeling love from God make your life different? And how have you seen your love affect others’ lives?

The second part of the equation of what all humans need is work. By that I mean to be productive in some way, to contribute to the greater good, to feel some sense of accomplishment. What does work usually give us that matters most to us? Many people would say we work primarily for money but I have found, in my career development work, that was not the case. Sure, we need that basic security (and many workers do not even have that) but after that we usually don’t work for money. Volunteers and parents do not work for money and their work is just as meaningful as income generated work, even though the culture does not value what they do as much.

I work because it satisfies my desire to express ideas, it gives me an outlet for my creativity, it engages me with other people’s stories and it inspires me to share spiritual healing experiences. Staying engaged with friends and clients helps me feel whole. But we all work for different reasons. Here are a few of the other reasons people say they work.

Recognition and approval

service and social welfare

leadership and personal power

Interpersonal relations

moral value

creativity and challenge


If you are game to reflect on your motivations for work, which three motivations do you resonate with the most? Be honest! Knowing why you really work and how to obtain more of what satisfies you results in renewed energy, productivity and satisfaction.

I was writing this essay at one of my favorite restaurants and I asked my server why she worked. She said it was the exercise built right into the job and the social outlet it gave her. Then when she goes home she is tired but she gets to spend time with her seven pets! (this includes 3 rescue and foster pets). She said that, as a single woman, it was a good life. I asked her where she gets love in her life and she said, “To be honest, from my pets more than from my children.”

But, sadly, work has its negative side effects as well. We can become addicted to work; becoming married to our work with no balance in our lives. We can produce degrading products that hurt or injure people. We can become greedy and overly competitive. We can lose our jobs for whatever reason, and suffer grave consequences of identity or health.

So how do we work in a way that leans towards deeper satisfaction and contribution? I’d suggest that we bring our love for God into our work. I do not mean that we necessarily witness for our faith in the workplace since that is precarious and even illegal, but that we allow who we are in our inner connection with our loving God to seep out deliciously into the core of our work.

~What if you’ve had a deep and lasting experience of community through meeting with a group of spiritually minded people? Why not bring the concept of true community into the workplace, even if you don’t talk about it that way. Just try to create loving communities that represent the gifts of your spirit!

~What if you are a creative person but do not have the obvious outlets to use your gift in your main work tasks? How about asking God how to use your creativity in other ways at work, for events you volunteer for, for photos or posters if that is available, for spoken word opportunities at celebrations. Use your creativity to bring your spirit of love from God to people in the workplace.

~What if you believe in the power of inclusion since you feel so included by God? If, in your workplace, there are diverse cultures, why not really engage with people from other cultures and see what can happen from those engagements?

~Ask yourself this question: When have I had a spiritual experience at work? See what other opportunities come to mind as a result of things that you may have forgotten about or not thought of as spiritual.

So whatever your gift, ask God how you can use that in the workplace in a more sustained and satisfying way. If it’s humor, ask how you can use humor in a satisfying and sustaining way. If it’s collaboration, ask how you can use your skills in collaboration in a more expansive way at work or in your volunteer work.

I’m working with a group of ten people from different occupations and from different age groups (from 30s to 70s). We are asking what it looks like to be a healer in our workplaces, spiritual and emotional healers. So what would it look like to do accounting in a healing way? To do ministry in a healing way? To create art or to write in a healing way? To parent in a healing way? First we needed to look at what qualities were helpful in being a healer and then we needed to look at how God works, so we weren’t caught in trying to do this healing by ourselves. I think we’ve concluded that we can’t be effective healers (whatever that means for each of us individually) unless we are also in a healing process. It seems elementary now but it was a revelation when we first discovered that truth. So we heal, we ask God for guidance, we claim our gifts, we look to see what healing opportunities are coming our way. Daunting but very satisfying.

And here’s an intriguing thought. What if love and work are integrally connected? What if a portion of our work is actually to give and receive love wherever we are?

Love and Work. What love and what work are beckoning us? If we keep asking we will keep learning more.

In order to love and work effectively, we also need some balance, some outlets for rejuvenation and release. What about play?

Play feeds our souls. Play is so fun. We need it. We crave it. We spend millions of dollars on it each year. So play is good. But I’d suggest we look at it carefully to keep it playful and not just another way to work.
My premise: we need to learn to play without feeding our addictions
Many people in our culture think they know how to play because they engage in competitive, adventurous, or physically strenuous exercise. Our culture encourages these activities as a way to balance a stressful work schedule. I would suggest that these activities be called stress reduction techniques but need not be confused with the concept of play. Most of them inadvertently feed people’s addictions, especially the work addiction, and do not relieve long term stress, which leaves deep scars on the psyche.
Think of a few of the ways you usually play—recreation, travel, hobbies, exercise. I used to describe play as anything that took my mind off work. Now I think about it differently.
Play may seem to many of us as something we left behind in our childhoods, but playing (without feeding our work or other addictions) can help us feed our soul. Feeding our soul not only rejuvenates our mood and our body, but it also helps us remember who we are and whose we are—and helps immensely in getting us up in the morning. Feeding our soul fuels the love and work that we desire in our life.
I suggest that soul feeding is what matters more than love or work, and that it is vital to our life. We feed our soul through solitude, rest, dreams, breaks, exercise, prayer, music, healthy food etc. And mindful play is a fine way to feed our soul.
Reflect on this list of some key characteristics of soul-feeding play and see what activities come to mind for you. Which of your regular activities have these characteristics? Which don’t? Why?
• Activities that leave your body, mind, and spirit rested and refreshed, even though you may get physically tired.
• Activities in which you do not have to win or be an expert to feel good about yourself.
• Activities that stimulate your creativity.
• Activities that take your mind completely off your work and problems.
• Activities that increase your appreciation of others, of nature, of relationships.
• Activities in which you laugh freely and do not feel angry, tight, or ashamed afterward.
• Activities that do not require you to travel long distances.
• Activities in which you do not have to prove yourself or be in charge.
• Activities that do not require a large investment of money or exhaustive maintenance.
• Activities that bring you closer to who you were as a child.
• Activities that feed your soul.
Soul play may now include singing in the shower, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, stopping at a coffee shop to read a book in the afternoon, making a shawl for a neighbor, riding your bike with no destination, giving someone a free ticket to a concert, dancing in your office when no one else is watching.
Reflect on which of your play activities meet at least half of the criteria listed above. Some probably do and some don’t. Try substituting one new play idea for one of your current ones. You may have to expand your concept of play to include things you previously would have rejected. Or you may consider doing your current recreation in a different way. Don’t expect people to applaud you when you change. Most people are moving too fast to notice. You can applaud yourself.
My list of soul play activities includes reading in my favorite chair, walking in nature, driving on curvy roads, making icons, having coffee with friends, baking cookies and brownies, watching murder mysteries on TV, tango dancing in my living room and watching pro baseball and college basketball. I believe that soul play, whatever that means to us, brings us closer to others, to God and to ourselves.
Here’s a soul play story from my earlier years! I think it represents the time I changed my concept of play in my life—and it made a big difference. In my ex-husband’s family golf was important. My father in law was the son of the head groundskeeper of a large metropolitan golf course. He played exceptionally well. My husband and two stepsons also played well. So naturally I played too. It was our family sport, and it was competitive. Tempers flared when things did not go well. I finally figured out that although I loved golf and could hold my own with these men around the greens, it was not fun or relaxing to always be competing, betting, or comparing scores.
I decided to play my own golf game. First I read the book Inner Golf and practiced the principles until I was playing a relaxed inner game. Then I decided to enjoy the weather and nature, since they were major reasons I liked golf. Lastly I decided to scrap the official rules and make my own rules. If I didn’t like the lie of my ball, I improved it. If I didn’t like the length of the hole, I shortened it, like when we came to a long par five. I dropped my ball at the 250 yard mark and played from there.
I began enjoying golf so much that I made a decision that almost started a riot. I quit keeping number scores and started keeping letter scores: W for wonderful holes, S for scenic holes, G for a great shot. My philosophy of golf was, “It doesn’t matter. “ Not only did I enjoy it immensely, my game was more relaxed and consistent.
So, God can be involved in love, in work and in play. How do you experience God in your love, work and play?

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.
Reflections on this essay, in case you haven’t already done this in the body of the essay!
Which is more compelling to you, love, work or play? Why?
When have you given and received love in a satisfying way in your life?
Why do you work? How have you increased your satisfaction in work?
What is your most soul restoring form of play?
Where does God fit into your love, work and play activities?
How does that make a difference in your life?

A note on this essay. Some of the “play” portion of this essay was published in a chapter called Soul Leadership in my book, Real Power, 3rd edition, 2003.