Here’s a weird analogy for you. (I had this sense that everyone was a little short on weird analogies . . . )
TI Invaders. Anyone out there remember this? It was an early 80s video game, and for some strange reason, we had it. I think it was a gift from our uncle – but I was about five or six years old so I don’t know for sure. What I do remember was that we had TI Invaders and Munch-Man . . . and this was the same era in my life that I was allowed to watch Welcome to Pooh Corner. I have a sort of feeling that we played the game with a joystick hooked up to a computer . . . one of those huge computers that had a black screen with orange writing.
Does this jog your memory? (And no, I’m not still playing the game. I googled for this picture.)
I imagine we got the game somewhere around 1982, and I don’t think I’ve given it another thought since probably 1984. Until now. The other night I was lying in bed after a particularly spicy day when things kept coming over the plate a little too fast for me, and I told Ben (who was already thoroughly konked out) that I was feeling just exactly like I was living in TI Invaders. I had this image of zooming back and forth, trying to shoot at things that are falling out of the sky, and they’re always falling just slightly too fast for you. And of course, once you get good at it, what happens? You go to the next level, and they start falling faster. No matter how expert you get at shooting strange dot matrix aliens, there are always more of them coming, and they’re just that much faster than you are. So you sit there with a death grip on the joystick, your tongue sticking out the side of your mouth and a concentrated look on your face, trying to get good enough to shoot them all. Once you master it, you’re on to the next level, and your recently acquired competence is suddenly not quite enough.
Does this sound familiar? As it turns out, TI Invaders is a lot like life. God gives us a set of challenges, and they can seem huge and overwhelming. Our job is to grab the joystick and concentrate – trying to master what he’s put in front of us. It might be the overwhelmingness of being a newlywed and suddenly realizing that this means planning menus and having food in the house and cooking every single night – and not just occasionally when you feel like it. (Remember when that seemed pretty intense?!) As soon as that starts to settle into a groove, God throws you a curve ball. Now you’re morning sick, or you move to another city, or whatever. You muscle through that, and then you’re on to the next challenge.
As a mother, I remember when having one baby was an all encompassing endeavor. I mean, there was so much to learn! Dealing with teething, handling diaper blowouts, learning to tell when your baby is hungry and when he’s just sleepy, wondering what to do with fevers, how to know when to start introducing solids, you know the drill. I think back on that phase now, and of course all those issues don’t seem nearly as huge as they did then. Five babies later, that part seems pretty easy. If God moved us into that phase and then just kept us there, we could get pretty good at it! But of course, children don’t stay babies. If you’re a mother with lots of children and you’ve been in the “baby phase” for 17 years and are a total pro, of course now you’re trying to do the same baby routine with ten other children in the house. Not quite the same as that first time around! And even if you only ever have one child, you realize that just one presents a constant stream of new challenges. As soon as you have the baby thing figured out, now you have a toddler! And the split minute you think you’ve got that sorted, they’re suddenly a big kid with new needs. And then they’re a teenager. And then you’re a grandmother and you’re starting all over, learning a new role.
If we could only rewind, we would laugh at the things that seemed so challenging to us five or ten years ago! Think of all the things you could get done if you were just a mom with one baby! And why is it that you couldn’t get them done when you were a mom with one baby?
I think we can learn something about God from this. He doesn’t want us to become experts who then proceed to perform with perfect competence until we die. Perfect competence isn’t the point. Forward progress is the point. And I think if our ultimate goal is perfect competence, then we’re wanting the wrong thing. People who manage to somehow achieve a situation in life where everything is under control, nothing is out of place, nothing ever ruffles their feathers . . . well I think they might be the person who’s buried their talent. They don’t want risk. They want to know where everything is all the time. They’ve buried their talent and they’re sitting on it. They’re not moving forward. They’re the person who mastered level 1 on TI Invaders and refuses to go to the next level. They play level 1 over and over and over with perfect skill.
Sometimes those people can be intimidating. You look at them and see them shooting those aliens out of the sky with nonchalant ease. They make it look so simple. And here you are, beads of sweat on your forehead, missing tons of aliens, and you wonder what your problem is. But if you’re on level 14, then you don’t have anything to be insecure about. Just get good at level 14, and then don’t cry when God moves you to level 15.
Note! It’s also possible that you’re flunking out on level 1, and the other person is actually much better at this than you. I’m not trying to say that anyone who seems to be better than you is actually worse! But what I am saying is that the ideal for which you strive should not be a perfect mastery of level 1, and that’s the end. Some people strive for that, and some people achieve it. And then they get featured in magazines. And that shouldn’t make you insecure. Level 1 is not the entire game. Neither should you worry about what level other people are on at all. That’s not your problem. God may be working on them in areas completely invisible to you. He works on everyone in His own way, and what He does with them is not your problem. Our goals should not be based around what we think other people are achieving. Our goal is to make the most of the challenges that God has given to us. That’s more than enough to keep us busy – and if you have one eye on how your neighbor is doing, I can guarantee you that you’re missing a lot of aliens through lack of proper concentration!
The other thing to remember is that God is the one who moves us to the next level when He thinks we’re ready. The big picture plan is in His hands, and if He keeps us in the same level for a really long time, then that’s up to Him. Look at what He’s put in front of you, and figure out how you can get better at it. He’ll move you on when He thinks you’re ready.
I think the obvious thing we need to realize is that God is never done with us. He sends us new challenges, not for the sake of the challenge itself, but for what it is going to do for our soul. He gives us piles of laundry, not because He cares so much about laundry, but because He knows that laundry is an excellent means of sanctification! He’s an artist, carving the rough and unpromising stone that is you into the image of his son. He chips and hammers and polishes and smooths, and when He’s done with one part of you He moves on to the next. Dishes and laundry and carpool and early mornings and late nights and sticky floors and dustbunnies are the sandpaper by which He polishes you. Major trials and heartache are His hammer and chisels. And our job is to be eager for the transformation – anxious to see what the final masterpiece is going to look like. Our job is to not get in the way. Not to complain about the progress. Not to wish we were back in the earlier phases. Imagine a rough block of stone, shaped vaguely like a head, with a perfectly chiseled nose sticking out the front with no other features. That’s you, having completed the early levels. Don’t decide that’s good enough. Be anxious to see where God is going to work on you next, and then (to wildly mix my metaphors) grab the joystick (appropriately named) and tackle the next level.