We held our child’s Fifth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. This is the place where you buy tokens to play games and some of the games reward your talents with tickets. Those tickets can then be turned into prizes that you can take home with you. You should note that I’m using finger quotes when I say the word, ‘prizes’ as they are underwhelming at best, and cost far more tickets than can be healthily earned in a reasonable amount of time.
I noticed two distinct tendencies from the children as they made their way through the arcade. Especially from the youngest of kids. The first thing is that they often chose to play the game that had no ticket payout. These were often “rides” (again, finger quotes). You burned a token and got to move about 6 inches in a couple of directions for a few seconds before the ride was complete. Want to ride some more? Another token.
These gimmicks were insulting. They weren’t fast, they weren’t fun, and they didn’t pay out those precious tickets. But the kids didn’t care. They flocked to the airplanes, cars, and dinosaurs with seats on their backs, swiped their tokens away and laughed endlessly. I kept prompting, play the games that payout!!!!! But they just kept going back to the rides.
And they laughed. They would pile in, too. Sitting in laps, hanging off the sides. The whole currency exchange was completely foreign to them. They saw someone having fun and they wanted in on it. It never crossed their minds to wait their turn, pay with their own token, or sit in their own designated space.
Another trend that frustrated me, was the way the kids would simply leave the game the second it ended. They would just turn and run. I can’t count how many times I had to call out and remind them to come back and get their tickets. They would just leave them dangling from the machine. At first, I thought it was just our boy. He had never been to this type of place before.
But he had. Several times. And all the kids were doing it. When the game over screen flashed before their eyes, they knew one thing for certain… time to play another game. And those chubby little legs pumped as quick as they knew how to head directly toward that goal. Having fun. That was all it was about.
Collectively the parents had to interrupt the fun and teach those bright eyed cherubs a new lesson in life. “You forgot your tickets.” “Those are yours!” “You earned those”… “Don’t let someone else get your tickets!”. The words started turning sour as I kept speaking them. I was teaching him a form of greed. Perhaps it was smart thinking. Maybe it was a minor adjustment in strategy… but it felt wrong.
By default these kids had one goal. Have fun. And the adults kept interjecting… “its all about the prize”, “Its all about the stuff”, “Its all about winning”. Inadvertently or not, we were teaching that behavior. And the older kids knew it all too well. They camped out at the high payout games and gathered reams of tickets. They kept eyes out for abandoned tickets left by their younger, smaller versions, and were more than happy to pocket any dropped tickets as well.
Jesus’ encouragement to be more like children burned painfully in my gut. (It wasn’t the pizza, I’m certain of that).
I felt like the kids were living out the intended Christian life. Just living in God’s love and grace. Happily moving freely from game to game. Freedom from guilt, obligation, and captivity. And the whispers came in (sadly from us older folks).
“Don’t play that game… try this one over here.”
“Don’t share that ride… you paid with your token, make them use theirs”
“You want the one that makes you feel better… and you feel better with more tickets.”
I was so proud of our boy. They don’t actually sell tokens anymore for the games, they charge up debit cards. The kids swipe those at each game to get credit and begin playing. They all struggled at first, but I was able to show him how it works. His friend sat next to him and wasn’t swiping it correctly so he couldn’t play. Without giving it a single thought, our boy said, “here” and swiped his own card for the other child.
He thought of it in simple terms. Your card wasn’t working and mine was. So I’ll just use mine. Welling up with pride, my protective side kicked in. I had to take him aside and the lesson began again. You have your own tokens and that boy has his own. It’s awesome to share, but you won’t get to play much if you give all of your tokens away… and they will get to keep playing after using yours.
I felt dirty. I felt cheap. More whispering.
“Don’t give to others, they can get their own”
“Watch out for your own self and don’t worry about others”.
It’s hard to be like children. They throw out the playbook. They throw out all the books. They don’t care about the tickets, or the time to leave, or the costs… they just want to ride the rides.
I think God set us up to ride the rides. In this world’s arcade we are meant to have fun and just live in God’s protective grace. We are genuinely meant to live in contentment as Paul learned to do. But somewhere along the way, someone whispers. What about these tickets? And some of us will spend the rest of our lives chasing things that have no value.
And I literally mean, ‘no value’. Have you seen the prizes from Chuck E. Cheese?
125 tickets for a plastic spider ring?!!!? 200 tickets for a bouncy ball?!?!?! The same size and quality that comes from a .25 cent bubble gum machine???? Cheap colorful plastic and candy. ALL of it will melt, break, or be consumed, most likely, on the ride home. But we still learn to ‘grow up’.
We learn that these items have meaning. We hear the whispers and strive for more plastic, more colors, more brightly lit games that promise payout. God says, I just want you to relax and ride this gentle motion and we say, “No! I need this spider ring. I must have this kazoo!”. And we work endlessly for stuff. Junk. Garbage.
He wants us sharing and taking on each others burdens, but we have learned that its better to look out for ourselves. We need that new car, that promotion, that nicer neighborhood, those other friends, or we want to shake that reputation… and we chase the whispers of a deceitful enemy. All the while, contentment and safety rested in our Savior’s arms.
We may mean well, but we can’t sacrifice for others because we need that stuff. If I give to this guy, then I won’t get what I want. If I let him go first, then I’ll have to wait. We use words like I earned, I deserve, and mine. oh mine. Mine, mine, mine. What an ugly word all by itself. Jesus said to give to Caesar, the things that belong to Caesar and to give to God, the things that belong to God. Can you see who He didn’t include in that verse? Me. Us. You. When we think of things in terms of ownership… we really miss out on a basic biblical principle. It’s all Gods, or it burns up in the end. You can neatly place every single thing in your life into one of those two buckets. There is no mine. Mine is an illusion. A lie.
Which one are you striving for? Which one gets your attention? Which one motivates and gets prioritized in your life? Do you yearn for safety provided by the God that made you… or do you gotta have more tickets?