Spirituality for Today – Fall 2019 – Volume 24, Issue 1

The Games People Play

Janice Alonso

Years ago, when I bought my first computer, the game Free Cell came automatically installed. I was new to my desire to become an author. A switch from a Smith-Corona Electra to the Apple 2GS at first seemed like a miracle. The move from the typewriter to this "newfangled" machine was exciting, but it also proved to be a challenge. Learning how to use a computer coupled with the frustrations anytime one learns a new skill toyed with my discipline to stay on task with my writing. Frequently, I found my mind wandering to Free Cell as a stress-reliever – or so I told myself. The problem was I found that this distraction became a time–gobbler. Intending to play only for a fifteen–minute break, I'd find I'd spent an hour (and embarrassingly, sometimes more) on this mindless activity.

Flash forward to current day technologies. Again, I love the convenience and opportunities these devices afford, but I also find I can spend more time on games than is my intention. During one of my walks, I thought about the old song "The Games People Play." Games in and of themselves are not necessarily bad, but when they take up too much time they can become harmful. As I walked, I thought about the games we play on computers, phones, and tablets and how they relate to the games we play in life – the games we play with ourselves and with others. They, too, can be harmful and consume precious time that removes us from God's presence and his intended purpose for each of us. These are a few of the games that came to mind.

My favorite games have always been word games. I love crossword puzzles, word searches, Boggle, and Hangman. On my phone, I play Words with Friends, Wordscapes, and Stacks. Our lives are filled with word games as well. How often does my tongue betray me? I choose words of judgment instead of ones with compassion. I speak pointed barbs instead of soothing balms to relieve hurts. I offer complaints instead of help. I criticize to tear down rather than praise to build up.

But the reverse is just as destructive. What about those times I withhold support out of pettiness, suppress comfort so others can "stew in their own juices" because of a poor choice, or keep my lips locked instead of instead of saying, "you go first" because of selfishness.

Then there are those times when I should use no words at all. How often do I talk over another who is trying to add to a discussion? I don't want to think about the situations when I should have been listening instead filling the conversation with words meant to fix, to remind that "I told you so," and to point out that someone is actually lucky because so–and–so has it so much worse. Most shameful are those instances when I spend my prayer time telling God my plans and asking for his blessing rather than remaining silent and still, waiting for his plan to evolve.

I also love games of strategy – matching my wits against another. As a child, I played dominos with my grandmother and her mother. They showed no mercy – it was every girl for herself on those afternoons. I'd pass up some plays in hopes of drawing a tile that would give me more points on my next turn. We also played Yahtzee, Canasta, and checkers. Apps offer us strategy games such as chess, Connect Four, and Othello. I delight at the message "you win" when I've trounced my faceless opponent.

But in real life, don't I spend too much energy on trying to outmaneuver others, often with the faces of family, friends, and co-workers plainly in view. From trying to slide in through the shortest checkout line to signing up for easy jobs when a volunteer sheet moves around the room. Am I concentrating on what's best for me rather than what's best for the success of a get–together or a project? Family circumstances, work environments, and social events can be hot–beds for shoring up our strategic skills to look out for ourselves and to size up a situation to assure Number One comes out on top.

Then there are games of logic – brainteasers and riddles… these require we use our minds to infer information to glean the correct solutions. In real life, we employ logic in a different way, to assure we get the resolution that best suits our needs. We take a path that uses these choices to justify what we want, burying the true reasons so we don't have to face the underlying motivations for our behavior:

"I deserve these expensive shoes because I've worked hard for them."

"I'm not going to volunteer to prepare a meal for my friend who is ill because she already has so many friends from church, her tennis team, and her women's club making meals for her family."

"He needed a scolding because that's the only way to get through to him."

We use these illogical thoughts to defend greed, laziness, and anger. We don't donate because one person couldn't possibly make that much difference. We don't give a gap to a driver who is trying to merge into heavy traffic because we have important appointments. We spend our energy inventing reasons to rationalize our actions to give credence to a faulty explanation.

When we don't discipline our tongues, our minds, and our bodies, we run the risk of letting these poor choices turn into bad habits. Bad habits in turn keep us away from living out these Christian commandments:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)

Bad habits also build barriers between God and us. By confessing our sins and keeping games as fun and recreational, we allow more time to be with God in harmony with the Holy Spirit that fills us.

I wouldn't trade one minute from any of those afternoons on the back porch with my grandmother and great–grandmother. I learned much about life and people I'd never known because they had died before I was born. I spent quality time with two female role models who lived their day to-day routines being honest, hard-working, and caring about others. Perhaps most important, when game time was over, we put the pieces back into the box and got on with the tasks at hand.