Everyone needs a hobby. Mine is video games, and it has been since I was about seven years old. It’s easy to assume that an activity like gaming can at best have no link to real life and at worst be detrimental to an ordered and mature life. I’ve found neither to be true, so I thought I’d write a few blog posts about things I see in games which can point us towards a better way of living life, and specifically towards the way of Jesus. This is part one of “Lessons From Gaming.”
Recently I’ve been playing games in what’s known as the SoulsBorne genre. For the uninitiated, these games are typically very challenging but also deeply rewarding. The gameplay is hard but not unfair; it’s a steep learning curve which I always assumed would be too much for me but I’ve found a surprising amount of enjoyment in trying, trying again and eventually succeeding.
In each of these games there will be a bar alongside your character’s health which indicates your stamina (it’s sometimes called other things but the concept is the same). Each time your character performs an action like rolling or swinging a sword, it depletes your stamina bar. When the bar is empty, your character cannot perform any actions until it refills again.
One of the earliest lessons you learn in these games is the importance of managing your stamina. If you wade in swinging your sword indiscriminately your stamina will run out and you’ll be open to an attack from the enemy which will likely end in you seeing the “game over” screen. Patience is needed in order to be effective and progress in the game.
As I’ve played through these games and learnt to manage my stamina, it’s got me thinking about the importance of managing stamina in real life.
In our society we are suffering an epidemic of burnout. This is the case amongst my colleagues in Christian leadership as well as in many different spheres of work. We are a society which is perpetually tired. I’ve heard it said that being an adult is essentially about talking to other adults about how tired you are. Our stamina bars are often depleted – we need to learn how to manage our stamina. Jesus has some helpful things to say about this.
Matthew 11:28-30 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
As you read that, in all likelihood you felt that at least some of it applied to you. You feel weary; you’re carrying heavy burdens. Jesus extends an invitation to you to receive rest from Him.
So the question is: what does rest look like to you?
Maybe resting for you is giving time to your hobbies. Perhaps it’s spending time with your family and friends. Maybe it’s simply sleeping. Possibly it’s escaping into a really good book or Netflix show.
None of these things is bad, but Jesus is talking about something quite different.
Notice what he says immediately after offering rest: “Take my yoke upon you.”
This is not, as I assumed when I was a child, to do with eggs. A yoke is a farming tool – a kind of harness used to join together two oxen so that they can pull a plough together. Doesn’t it seem weird then that in the context of rest, Jesus’ metaphor is one that relates to work? Why doesn’t Jesus say “Take my hobbies upon you,” or “Take some time out with me, I’ve saved you a really nice comfy chair”?
Here’s the thing: when we think of rest we often go to things which are essentially an escape from the weariness of our working lives. It’s not bad, but there’s something better. John Mark Comer puts it really well:
“Jesus doesn’t offer us an escape. He offers us something far better: ‘equipment.’ He offers his apprentices a whole new way to bear the weight of our humanity: with ease. At his side. Like two oxen in a field, tied shoulder to shoulder. With Jesus doing all the heavy lifting. At his pace. Slow, unhurried, present to the moment, full of love and joy and peace. An easy life isn’t an option. An easy yoke is.”
So Jesus’ invitation here is for us to come alongside him like the oxen in his metaphor. Oxen were paired for the task of ploughing partly because it required the strength of two oxen, but also so that younger oxen could be shown how to work well by older, more experienced oxen. In their enthusiasm, younger oxen would pull too hard or too fast, possibly injuring themselves in the process. They use too much of their stamina bar. The wisdom and experience of the older ox keeps the younger one from harm.
Jesus wants to be your older ox.
Now read the same passage, but in a more modern paraphrase:
Matthew 11:28-30, The Message “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I love it!
What about you? Have you been depleting your stamina bar too fast? Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out? Maybe you’ve tried lots of different ways to replenish your stamina bar, and it works for a short time but before long you’re back where you were before – empty.
Jesus’ invitation is there for you.
“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.”
One final thought which I hope will prove liberating for someone reading this:
Your schedule is far less about what you want to get done and far more about who you want to become.
Learn to manage your stamina – let who you want to become dictate the process, not what you need to get done. Maybe you’ll discover a whole new way of life that’s better by far than anything you’ve imagined before.