Along with my grandchildren, I love playing games. They enjoy sports, such as baseball, soccer, and basketball, as well as board games. Not being good at sports, I prefer board games. This summer, we’ve been playing Uno, Dominoes, Chess, Rummikub, and Yahtzee. We can get pretty intense in our game-playing. Most of the time it’s been fun but occasionally someone gets upset. Complaints, such as “You can’t do that!”, “You are breaking the rules!”, or “Grandma, so-and-so broke the rules!” disrupt the peaceful atmosphere. Some children get discouraged and quit playing the game. Others start out with a commitment to obey the rules, but when they see someone else cheating they change their mind, get angry and say, “I can do that, too!” No one enjoys the game when there is conflict about the rules or when the rules are broken.
So why have rules in the first place? Why not let every child play the way he or she wants to play? The result would be chaos and confusion. Games need rules in order to facilitate order, define what is fair and legal, and declare the consequence for rule-breakers and the reward for rule-keepers. Players need an authority (someone who possesses knowledge, wisdom, and hopefully compassion) to set the rules, negotiate conflict, and hand out consequences and rewards.
Despite their tendency to want to run-the-show, my grandchildren recognize their parents, Grandpa, or me as authorities. We decide what the rule are, whether or not a play is fair or legal, and what happens when someone breaks a rule. Even though they might not fully agree to the rules we set down, our grandchildren usually cooperate. They respect our decisions and follow our rules. Happiness is the result.
Whether it’s a board game, a sports event, a political contest, or something as serious as the “game of life.” I don’t think that we adults are much different than children when it comes to setting and breaking rules.
- We don’t like to live by rules set by someone else.
- We tend to be more concerned about how the other person plays than how we play.
- There’s something within all of us that likes to break rules.
Perhaps, that contributes to our frequent feelings of discontent and unhappiness. What would be the result if we, like children, submitted to the rules laid down by an authority superior to ourselves? An authority who–unlike us–is totally wise, all powerful, always just, and entirely good? What would life be like if we stopped looking at how everyone else is playing the game and focused on how we are playing the game? What would happen if we actually had the ability to keep the rules of the game?
Decades ago, when I was about the age that my middle school grandchildren now are, I recognized that God is the ultimate wise, powerful, just and good authority in the game of life, and I believed what the psalmist declared: “Happy are those who live pure lives, who follow the Lord’s teachings. Happy are those who keep his rules, who try to obey him with their whole heart” (Psalm 119:1, 2 NCV).
I was quite confident of my ability to keep the rules of God’s game—The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, and I became pretty good at noticing when other people broke those rules. I tended to overlook my infringements; God, in his mercy, showed them to me—gradually. Faced with my inability to keep the rules of the game, as well as the failures of others, there have been times when I’ve felt like quitting the game. I’m thankful that I’ve remained in it and confident, now, that I will end up a winner. My confidence rests not in my great ability to keep the rules but in God’s empowerment and grace.
If you have children or grandchildren, I hope that you are enjoying their games and playing with them. I hope, also, that you are doing well in the “game of life.” Here are some questions to consider:
- Am I a rule-breaker or a rule-follower?
- Whose rules am I following?
- How satisfied am I with my performance?
- On what or in whom is my confidence resting?