The Well-Played Life: Play Hard (Book Review)

Leonard Sweet says the Protestant work ethic has made us believe we should always work hard. But he says that we’re actually intended to play hard. Working his way through three stages of life, Sweet calls us to “get in the game,” and stop working ourselves to death. He admits it’s hard, but points out that the consequences are epically in our favor if we would play more. Who wants to get on the field?

It’s typical that Sweet would mix in anecdotes, stories, and his own life through the narrative flow, but from the very beginning, I was struck by the heavy weight of what not playing looked like. Sweet recounts the stories of three pastors who died too early, having served what my mentor calls “a cruel mistress,” the church. How do I not become like them? I ask myself. How do I avoid the sentiments of older pastors who say they worked late at church most nights, and their children went from 12 to 30 in the blink of an eye?

But don’t worry: this isn’t just for ministry types. Sweet’s stories are classic illustrations, from the man who walked on the railroad tracks because he didn’t know he got to ride the train to the man who called out by name in a wedding to the organist and reduced the whole congregation to neil-ing. Sweet is a deep, deep thinker but his wicked sense of humor is what sets him a part when it comes to reading his books. His ‘parables’ hook you without you knowing that they’re really, secretly, pulling open your own viewpoint and asking you if you don’t need a change in perspective. (I’ve always seen it as the Mary versus Martha principle from Luke 10:38-42 but the development of our personalities and place in life over time takes it to a deeper level.)

Sweet asks several questions through the course of the book which ultimately answer whether or not this book is for you. What defines you, your work or something else? What is your purpose, to work hard or something else? What makes your heart sing, your work or something else? Those are questions which Sweet explores theologically, and which I’ve been asking a lot lately. (Readers of the blog know that the book Hands Free Mama has stirred in me a desire to be more fully present, to enjoy life more fully, to share real time with people and not what’s left over.) You can also find a discussion guide for your own reflection or in a small group in the back of the book, and I find those to be helpful as well.

Sweet puts himself out there, in his own introspection, and its what makes this better than any self-help book, but a conversation with a wise sage who knows that the right blend of humor, criticism, theology, and story will make us better than we were before. This is why I wholeheartedly recommend The Well-Played Life and encourage you to ask yourself, is it time I embrace playing, creativity, and joy?


About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at,, and the brand new
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