When my oldest daughter, Elaine, was four, I watched her chase a soap bubble around the yard, utterly spellbound, and it struck me as a tiny window into how God must have felt as he watched Adam and Eve encounter each of the animals in Eden. Likewise, when I discovered that my youngest, Olivia, had held a full conversation with me while cutting our kitten’s whiskers under the table, I felt attuned with God’s anger when he flung his judgments at Israel through the prophets.

These kinds of moments, and a thousand others, make raising kids and building a family spiritually illuminating tasks—especially when they ask theologically stimulating questions like “Does Jesus wear undies?” And although the creators of Bluey, an Emmy-awarded animated kids series, seem to have no overtly religious leanings, the show unexpectedly taps into unseen realities.

If you haven’t yet discovered Bluey, let me catch you up. The series, streaming on Disney+, centers around a family of Australian blue heelers: six-year-old Bluey, her younger sister Bingo, Mum (Chilli), and Dad (Bandit). Each episode is less than 10 minutes long and targets a preschool audience—but the popular show draws all ages, and, in 2023, was the second-most acquired streaming program with 43.9 billion minutes consumed.

When the producers announced that a longer episode was slated for season 3, the public grew panicked that the show may be ending (thankfully, it’s not!), revealing just how deeply the series meets a need in our culture—and I think it’s worth exploring why.

The Heelers are just your average Australian family, with no superpowers or high-stakes problems to solve. But through their togetherness, these four transform the ordinary moments of family life into something more. In particular, Bandit and Chilli’s commitment to playing with their kids both inspires and indicts the merely human parents watching—and sometimes even brings us to tears.

But more than that, it’s my belief that Bluey delights and dismays us this way because it’s eschatological, pointing to the type of creative togetherness we’ll all experience one day in the new creation.

Before having kids, I scoured parenting books for effective methodologies; but 11 years in, I often find myself tactically bankrupt. I mean, how exactly do you handle one child’s jealousy that the other child is sick and gets to stay home from school? But the great thing about Bluey is that it acknowledges and solves these kinds of challenges—not through a didactic blueprint but through, of all things, improvisational and imaginative play.

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Throughout the show, Bandit and Chilli wholeheartedly enter Bluey and Bingo’s worlds. They join in their children’s games and follow their zany rules assiduously—whether it be freezing when a chord on the “magic” xylophone is struck, diving to save the balloon from falling during “Keepy Uppy,” or acting like robots or sick patients—anything to inhabit the on-the-ground domain where their kids’ ethical and spiritual development is daily being formed.

Unintentional though it may be, the Heelers’ parental play takes seriously Jesus’ words, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14), and even models Christ’s self-effacing humility in meeting us on our level. In both narratives—biblical and animated—the little ones’ stinginess, laziness, fearfulness, cheating, and lots of other juvenile behaviors can be redeemed and transformed.

Take Peter. As Erin Dufault-Hunter, associate professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary and an acquaintance of mine, pointed out to me one day, “After his resurrection, Jesus repeatedly asks Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ (John 21:15–17). It’s a game with words, one that recalls Peter’s braggadocio and betrayal and eventually turns him into a tender shepherd of the church.”

Even though Bandit and Chilli sometimes ask very relatable questions—like “Can’t we play a game where I lie down?”—their near-constant willingness to indulge in their kids’ whimsical antics can also cause many parents to feel inadequate. In a recent podcast about the show, NPR host Stephen Thompson described binge-watching Bluey right after he’d launched his son on his college career. “I don’t think that was good for my emotional health,” he said, presumably because it made him doubt the quality of his parenting when it was already too late.

I, for one, resonate with these insecurities. Truth be told, I’m terrible at playing with my kids like Bandit and Chilli. I’m reminded of myself in a second-season episode called “Let’s Play Octopus.” Bluey has her dalmatian friend Chloe over, and Bandit pretends he’s an octopus capturing the girls as they attempt to steal his treasure. Afterward, when Chloe goes home, she tries to replicate the experience with her own dad—who is, shall we say, a bit too stiff and hyper-rational to pull it off. Exasperated, Chloe exclaims, “You’re not playing it properly,” to which the confused dad replies, “But this is how I play it.” Cross-armed, Chloe quips back, “Bluey’s dad is more fun than you.”

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I’m that parent. And I think I’m an unnatural player because, for much of my life, I’ve been focused on being productive—thanks, in part, to the ever-industrious Protestant work ethic. As a working mother, I seek to maximize my day, grasping and collecting each scrap of time like a scarce resource that I can put toward “useful” ends. But beyond my idolatry of efficiency, I’ve struggled with an anemic theology of play. After all, what possible role can childlike play perform that adult-like purposefulness can’t? In short: a big role.

Studies show unstructured play can greatly benefit our kids—nearly half of whom are suffering from a growing mental health crisis. As Courtney Ellis, author of Happy Now: Let Playfulness Lift Your Load and Renew Your Spirit, points out in a piece for CT, “Playfulness is essential to human flourishing” and can be defined as “anything that brings us joy and connection.” This means the benefits of play also extend to enrich the congregational life of the local church family—and our walk of faith.

In his book, Far Too Easily Pleased, Jesuit scholar James V. Schall reminds us that “leisure describes the life of God.” God created the universe not because he felt compelled to or because he lacked something. And as the triune God, the Father created the world together with the Spirit and the Son (Col. 1:15–17)—whipping up magma, mountains, and mammals out of sheer freedom and love. God created the entire inhabited world, in part, for us to rejoice in it and praise him for it (Prov. 8:31).

As Thomas Aquinas said, “God plays. God creates playing. And man should play if he is to live as humanly as possible and to know reality, since it is created by God’s playfulness.”

Joyful play is an indispensable ingredient in making us fully human in his image—which means God can and does use play for our sanctification. Our whole purpose as creatures is, as the Westminster Catechism so aptly summarizes, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (emphasis mine). And if God created play, and all that God created will one day be renewed in the new creation, then we can expect that this kind of uninhibited play awaits us in heaven.

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As Felipe do Vale says in another piece for CT, “The resurrection is not a cosmic Etch A Sketch, where God shakes everything to start over; it is a divine commitment to what has already been made and declared very good (Gen. 1:31).” The same God who created the frolicking chimpanzees at the zoo blesses the young children who quite literally ape them. This means our best play times are yet to come—and our earthly glimpses of play speak to an eternity of joy. And while we cannot yet imagine it, I have a feeling the experience will be infinitely better than “Keepy Uppy.”

I know I’ll never parent as well as the fictional Heelers do (although my shining moments might just add up to the length of one Bluey episode)—and my kids probably won’t resolve conflict as effortlessly as Bluey and Bingo seem to (which is why I’m investing in a college fund and a therapy fund for each of the girls).

Still, on a practical level, Bluey challenges me to make room for more spontaneity and creative collaboration with my daughters each day. And as I do, I remember that the utopia it depicts is coming soon: a perfected humanity enjoying complete and creative togetherness for all eternity—along with our self-giving, playful Creator.

Katherine Lee is a poet and a mom working on a memoir about the ways her motherhood has been defined by the women in her family. Her master’s in theology has informed these pursuits in surprising ways.