When my oldest son was about 4, he loved Angry Birds. I mean, loved. If we didn’t set a timeframe, he would lose himself in the world of those little wrecking ball-shaped feathered friends and never return. So my wife and I did just that – set a timeframe. It became our standard procedure for letting him play the game: he’d ask, if we said yes, he’d get to play the game with a timer set. When the timer went off, the expectation was that he wouldn’t whine, complain, or throw a fit; he was to not only hand the phone back, but say “thank you” with a smile.
As you can imagine, it didn’t always go well. But think about it! He was experiencing something that was fun, creative, challenging, and he was learning and strategizing the more he played. It’s easy to get sucked into that and not ever be happy with what you have— to always look for more, instead of enjoying what you’ve already experienced.
Your Angry Birds, My Phone.
Over the course of this training for my son, God threw it right back in my face. As the church was really starting to grow, I had less opportunity to do a few things I loved doing. It wasn’t through any huge failing or treason against me as a person or anything that dramatic, but it still hurt and I was still stuck on what I might not get in the future.
When I got an opportunity to do one of these things again, I remember feeling God was saying, “This is your Angry Birds experience on my phone. Just as you expect from your son, I expect from you: when your opportunity has passed, hand the phone back and say ‘thank you.’”
As you can imagine, it didn’t always go well. When you get time with something you enjoy, that challenges you, that fills you up, it’s difficult to not be sad about not having more. I think that when we talk about surrendering things to the Lord, it’s usually something that either isn’t good or isn’t good for us. The real struggle comes when it’s something that is enjoyable, good, or beneficial.
It reminds me of the past (last) week of Beyond Happy. Sure, it was about money primarily, but it applies to our opportunities, as well. What do we do when “enough” isn’t enough? Enter Philippians 4:
“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 ESV
I’ve realized I can’t always control if I’m happy about something, but I can work on being content. No matter what. Really, that’s what I was trying to teach my son: contentment. When I appreciate what I already have, I don’t have to be sad that it’s over. Not to say that it’s bad to want more or to look forward to the next opportunity; but with contentment and gratitude I can look forward to next time in a healthy way.
What is gratitude?
Sometimes we talk about gratitude and it’s a little fuzzy with what that actually entails. I’ll offer another teaching point with my kids that helps illustrate: my wife and I consistently ask our kids, “What does it mean to be grateful?” The answer we’re looking for is two parts: 1) to be happy with what we have, and 2) to say “thank you.”
Again, this gets turned back around on me. How do I practice gratefulness? I choose to be happy with what I have (not what I don’t have) and I say “thank you.” I’ve realized that this is how I learn to be content in whatever situation, like Paul talks about in Philippians. Whether I get to do a lot or a little, whether I get to hold on to or let go of things that are good, that I love…God is teaching me to be content.
May I encourage the same in you? Whether you’re able to sing, play, lead, follow, or whatever is on your plate this season, it’s likely there will be at least a time or two where God “asks for the phone back.” May he give us all the grace to smile and say “thank you” when the time comes. I think we’ll be better for it once he hands it to us again.
Reflect on this…
Take some time to ask God what your “Angry Birds” might be. Is it an experience? An opportunity?
Look for a chance this week to practice gratitude for something that has a beginning and an end: choose to be happy with what you have, and say “thank you.”