If Life was a Video Game

Imagine if someone told you that they would give you $20 for every point you could score in a Mario-like video game. But–you could only play it one time. What would you do? Seriously, think about it…what would you do?

If I was just given that offer and asked that question, here’s how I’d answer:

I would talk to people who were experienced in playing the game and ask them questions like, “Are there games similar to it that I could practice on?” “What is important to get on each level?” “What are the dangers?” “Where are the coins and the secret weapons/powers?” I’d try to find out if there was a books about the game written by the manufacturer or people who know the game well. I’d memorize their instructions and look at maps (draw them if necessary). Bottom line—I’d take it very seriously because this will be the only opportunity I will ever have to get $20/point in a video game.

But what if you got the offer after you’d already started playing?

If I was just beginning to play level 4 and was asked by a player near the end of Level 1 for advice, I’d pause my game and tell him this:

1: You can pause the game: Pausing is, arguably, the most important step in getting points. True—there is no virtue in pausing in and of itself—in fact, it is somewhat costly as you aren’t getting points or moving forward while you’re paused. However, if you want maximum points you will need to look at your maps, survey the environment, review the instructions, receive counsel, rest your eyes, eat, sleep, etc. If you try to do those things while you are actively playing, it will be ineffective at best and fatal at worst. Remember the exhortation of Mad-Eye Moody, “Constant vigilance!” The truth is, though, no one can be constantly vigilant. You need rest and refreshment as well as training, re-orientation and reflection.   The lower the level the longer you can pause. BUT BE CAREFUL! Most people pause only to escape the game and fill their mind and time and thoughts with other distractions—they learn nothing, grow nowhere and come back to the game more tired and less focused than when they left it. If you’re only going to pause like that, it is better not to pause at all. You have to decide—do you really want points or not? You really can’t play two games at once (although many try…). (Ex 20:8-10, Matt 6:24)

2: Make the most of Level 1: There are hardly any points in level one, but there are hardly any (active) dangers, either. It is a great place to run around and get real comfortable with the controller. If Level 1 is played well, moving your man in Level 2 feels extremely natural. No one ever accidentally runs off the bridge into the lava on Level 2 who spent a lot of time moving around in Level 1. Sadly, hardly anyone does this since there are very few points to be had on the first level and it is very easy to get to the doorway of Level 2. Most just sit around bored and distracted until the level 2 door opens. It is kind of ironic that the least dangerous level is in some ways the most dangerous—failure to take advantage of its opportunities can seriously handicap you for the rest of the game. (Prov 2:1-12) [which brings me to #3…]

3: Pick up the keys!!!: Statistics show that most people who successfully open the treasure box in Level 3 for the super sword and the door in Level 4 for the power food, open them with keys picked up in Level 1. Nevertheless, most people don’t pick them up in Level 1–even the Level 1 players who have old people standing around them yelling, “Pick up that key! Pick up that key!!!” often refuse to do it. I think this is because players notice right away that carrying keys slows them down and bars them from going to certain places on the screen. This just feels wrong to them. Young players think that maximizing freedom, speed and mobility is the best way to get points; when, in truth, what you need most is power, knowledge and ability. There are many keys on the first two levels, and they are way easier to get there than the ones on level 3 and 4. Trust me–pick up the keys early! Gaining abilities always limits your options and always slows you down, but everything that is valuable is costly (and it costs more and more with each level). In this game, you really do only get what you pay for. Pay wisely. (Ps 119:9-16)

4: You can play with a partner: Starting as early as level 2, you can join forces with another player. This is an incredible opportunity to increase your total points, but only if 4 things are true: 1: You are partnered to a good player; 2: You are a good player; 3: You have both seriously prepared yourselves for partnered play; 4: You are both seriously committed to partnered play. If any of these 4 things is not true, you are much better off playing alone. Of the 4 requirements above, level 2 players often only concern themselves with the first two. In fact, the last two are at least as important. Playing with a partner requires very different skills than playing alone, and these are learned—it does not come naturally. A good solo player that never studied partner play is likely to suck in a partnered game. When partnered, maneuvering is much more difficult and you move way slower, but your power, knowledge and abilities can be greatly enhanced. There is great wisdom in an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (Eccl 4:9-12)

I have been partnered since the beginning of level 3. I’m not sure if I could say if the game is harder with a partner, but it might be in some ways. It is significantly more enjoyable (but occasionally significantly more painful). I can for sure say, though, that I’ve gotten more points. I’m way better as a partnered player (after all, that is how I was designed to play—it is not good for a man to play alone Gen 2). If you want to play with a partner, I cannot overstate the importance of the four things above. You need to know the game well, be comfortable with a controller, and understand the rules and dynamics of partnered playing. How do you do this? Read the guides. Watch (and evaluate) other players. Talk (and listen!) to other partnered players. Then, and only then, should you start evaluating potential partners. If you are a Christian at that point in the game, you’ll understand that the only person you could partner with (while maintaining a clear conscience before God) is one who’s best interest it is to be partnered to you. You must become a great player first or you’ll ruin someone’s game. This is time-consuming, expensive and painful (but way worth it in my experience). BEWARE! This is a big risk. Look around you—there are tons of low-pointed, crippled, and miserable partnered-players out there. Become a great player, learn partner lore, then (and only then) find a great partner. (Prov 18:22).

5: If it wasn’t for God’s grace in my life, I’d tell you to jump on the exploding mushroom: Understand that they don’t call it a “dog-eat-dog world” for nothing. There really are very few people in the world who will ever be truly committed to your best interests. It isn’t so much that they are against you, but that they are for themselves–which prevents them from love (1Jn 4:7-8).

Do you know any good players who are able to teach you? Do you know any bad players that are able to teach you (never underestimate the value of a bad example—sometimes failure teaches the most valuable lessons)? The important things are: 1: are they able to teach you? and 2: Are you willing to learn? One of the great dangers of level 1 is the false sense of ability it can give. It seems so easy and safe that it lulls people into a bored self-confidence. The designer of the game created level 1 so you could learn and grow, but most players just screw around bored while they wait for the door to level 2 to open. This is a huge mistake. If you want points in level 4, play level 1 with the same passion. LEARN from experienced players. If you can’t find a trustworthy mentor, at least pause your game and watch men play—remember you can learn a lot from both success and failure. However, watch and listen with discernment. Just because someone tells you something doesn’t mean that it’s true, and just because something looks like a success doesn’t mean that it ultimately is. This is a complicated game. That is why instruction from an experienced mentor who loves you is more valuable than what you can glean from your own observations. Unfortunately, love is way more rare than you think. If you have access to an experienced mentor who loves you, make the most of this opportunity! Sadly, it seems to me that most don’t. Listen and watch with strong intention (tempered with careful discernment). Here’s another thought–if the Manufacturer loves you and wants you to win, how stupid would you have to be to not listen to His instructions! (DUH!)

One thing that you will never be short of is people telling you how to play your game. This is one reason why people don’t value a loving experienced mentor—we’re all just sick to death of the seemingly incessant voices telling us how to play. It is just easier to quit listening altogether than to listen with discernment. Don’t do what is easy—this is $20/point! Listen with discernment and value those that love you well. Play well. God help you. God help us all. (Prov 3:5-8)

Protecting your child from the world–a parable

Once upon a time, two new fathers were walking through the park when they saw a burning bush that wasn’t consumed. After they took off their shoes and fell on their faces God said,

“Listen carefully. I’m warning you—if you don’t work really hard to prevent it, your children will drown when they are 19 years old.”

“How should we work hard to prevent this?” they asked.

“I gave you brains—use them! But, hear Me—each WILL drown if you don’t work really hard to prevent it.”

The first man ran to tell his wife.  From that moment on they devoted themselves to convincing their child that getting in the water was bad.  They would bathe him in 3” of water until he was 5 and then make him shower only.  They would never let him go to a pool or go to the lake with his friends.  They’d frequently tell him horror stories of drownings and the horrible dangers of swimming or even wading in water.  When the public school started a swimming team they began to home school.  While they used to vacation at the beach every year before he was born, they’d now only go to the mountains (and of course they destroyed all the old vacation photo albums before he was old enough to look at them).  They wouldn’t even let him watch TV shows if they showed positive images of swimming, boating or even wading.  When their son told them that he wanted to be a marine biologist, they told him that this was a demon-inspired curiosity and they wouldn’t hear of it.  After they sent him away to a college in New Mexico to study accounting, they laid awake every night worrying that he wouldn’t stay away from the water.

The second man also ran to tell his wife, and from that moment on they devoted themselves to knowing how to swim and be comfortable, strong and secure in the water.  Then, at the earliest possible age, they started teaching their child to swim.  As the years went by they taught and modeled water safety, skills and strength.  They were in the water a lot together as a family, and both parents watched closely to discern her strengths and weaknesses.  They worked together to strengthen the weak areas and were careful to warn her of the dangers that corresponded to her strengths.  When she told them that her career dream was to become the captain of a submarine, they embraced it with both hands.  When she left for Annapolis shortly before her 19th birthday, they prayed that God would protect her and strengthen her.  Then they fell asleep without anxiety.

You have a very limited time to train your children.  Never forget that while good judgment, wisdom, prudence and stewardship are virtues, safety  (in and of itself) is not.  What do your kids see as your priority for them?  Neither you nor your children are called to be safe.  You are all called, however, to be strong (like Jesus) in a dangerous world that is trying to conform you to its (fallen) image even as it harbors enemies trying their hardest to kill you.  Are you teaching your children to be prudent, strong, and wise as if their life depended on it?  The (very real!) dangers they face now are like the shallow end of the pool.  Get in there with them and train them to be strong, capable, wise and secure in a hostile environment–don’t drag them out of the pool!  They are going to have to spend a lot of their life in the water.  This is by God’s design.  The water will get deeper.  This is also by God’s design.

Naiveté is not the same as holiness.  Fear is not the same as prudence.  Wisdom teamed with strength is fertile soil for all the virtues.

Would your life change if you married a princess?

I remember a time, over 20 years into marriage, when the “big dealness” of marriage overwhelmed me. Certainly, I had thought about marriage many times before. I have always had a very high view of marriage, and I took my calling as a husband very seriously. Then, one night God overwhelmed me with a lesson, and my life has never been the same.

I was folding the laundry while my wife was at a meeting. I was getting increasingly irritated, as pretty much every piece of her clothing was inside out. I was seriously considering putting her socks together inside out (I can be that petty!) because I was so annoyed. Then this thought came and hit me like a hammer:

What if in the summer of 1991 I’d seen a burning bush in my back yard that was not being consumed. What if after I took off my shoes and fell on my face I heard the voice of God say,

“Son!  I have a daughter that I love very much. I love her so much that I was willingly tortured to death so that I could adopt her. There is nobody on this whole planet that I love more than her. She wears My name and bears My image and I am with her (very alertly) every nanosecond of her life. I could tell you exactly how many hairs are on her head, how many tears she’s ever cried and how much potential and aptitude I’ve built into her life. You’ve never met a more important person.

I want you to marry her and love her like I have loved you. I want you to take her into your house and give her your name. You will do whatever you have to do to help her know and fulfill her calling. I expect that you will treat her in a manner consistent with her relationship to Me. She is a princess. She is My princess. You will treat her accordingly. Do you have any questions? Is there anything I have said that is not clear?”

“No Sir.”

Would I ever consider not turning out her socks if I thought about what it meant to be married to a daughter of God? Is there anything too much to give her? How overwhelming it is that I am called to lead her in following our Lord and will give an account to Him for what I have done?

It is actually pretty overwhelming for a woman too. She is called to submit to a man’s authority and treat him with respect–an actual, real, man living after the events of Genesis 3 and manifesting the fruit of it regularly. Seriously–how terrifying, frustrating and risky is that?!

The plain fact is that all husbands and all wives are (to put it delicately) incomplete in their sanctification. Lest there be any doubt, living with a person who is “incomplete in their sanctification” occasionally feels like living with someone who is “a selfish, inconsiderate, offensive and infuriating sinner.”  Nevertheless, if your spouse has been adopted by God, he/she is actually a prince or princess.  His/Her Father is greater, richer, stronger and smarter than any king you could possibly imagine.  Nothing gets by Him and everything really matters.  Woe to the one who treats one of His children in a manner inconsistent with their privileged position!  He knows.  And, scarier still, He cares.

Let that sink in–God seriously cares.  He loves more passionately and knows more completely and gives more abundantly and threatens more horribly than any father in the history of the world.  If that doesn’t profoundly affect the way you treat your spouse, you need to seriously consider what you truly believe about your Almighty, Omniscient Father-in-law.

Marital Détente

While we may never actually say it out loud, inside I think we can sometimes feel like our little foibles and less-than-perfections are certainly not ideal but are really pretty understandable, given the circumstances. Marriage, however, puts you in the crosshairs of someone else’s “foibles and less-than-perfections” and they suddenly feel more like ugly sins that are not very understandable at all given your circumstances. Nothing can teach you about the ugliness of “foibles and less-than-perfections” like being irrevocably bound to a person who exhibits them. Then, the Holy Spirit (like a ghost of Nathan) will haunt your marriage whispering, “You are the man! You are the man!” And, like David, you can wind up broken and contrite, humbled and at peace.

We often quote Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. I think we like that verse when we think about the outcome—sharpness! We all want to be strong and sharp!   I wonder, though, if the proverb is really more about the process than the outcome. The image clearly suggests that sparks, heat and pain are plentiful as two heavy, iron-strong dull things bang against each other so hard that one’s out-of-line rough parts get violently knocked off by the an other’s out-of-line rough parts. Why are we surprised when this hurts and offends?

Do you want to be sharp? Then God tells you in Proverbs that you must submit yourself to the spiritual discipline of rubbing against other big, heavy dull, out-of-line, rough people who will scrape against you so hard that parts of you are knocked off. Without anesthesia.

I think the reason that most marriages fail is because ever since Genesis 3 we all want to be sharp but we don’t want to be sharpened. When I say most marriages fail, I’m not just referring to those that end in divorce. While those obviously fail, there is a very comparable failure that exists in many marriages that endure. I call it marital détente.

“Détente” is a French word that literally means “loosening”. It was applied to the state of loosened international relations that allowed relatively peaceful co-existence during the cold war. In marital détente, a couple stays married, but loosens their community so they don’t rub against each other. No pain, no heat, no sparks, no sharpening. The spouses silently agree to turn a blind eye to each other’s dullness and out-of-line-ness and leave the relational space for it to continue unhindered. As long as they both exist in a comparable degree of dullness, they are content to live and let live (which is, more accurately, die and let die).

What will you endure to be sharp?  Will you submit to the discipline of sharpening?

Marriage is many things–not the least of which is a spiritual discipline.