The art of "Life" is simple: be the player with the most stuff at the end. The art of living is much different.
In my last blog, “the art of dying,” I recounted the story of the late Judge Charles Traylor. He regrettably passed away this week, and I dedicate this piece to him and his wonderful family. In my observations and thinking surrounding Judge Traylor’s passing, I would be remiss to forego an opportunity to speak of the opposite.
At home throughout the quarantine season, my family has enjoyed playing board games together.
Each night, Yahtzee, Guess Who?, Monopoly, and CandyLand patiently lay on a chair next to the dining room table awaiting their next appearance after a long hibernation in the dusty cabinets of yesteryear. Of them all, our favorite is Hasbro’s “The Game of Life.”
If you’re familiar with this game, you’ll know just how fun it is. If you aren’t familiar, I’ll give a brief explanation of how it works.
Each player chooses a small plastic car of his or her own color choice to use throughout the game. Everyone starts at the beginning with a set amount of cash, (inflation has changed the amounts over time) and chooses between college and career.
Players choosing the college route must pay to “go to college” and must wait until graduation to choose a career card. Those choosing the career route are allowed to draw career cards immediately.
Each player spins the dial to move his or her car forward.
Along the path, players collect “Life tiles” based on which spaces they land on. These tiles represent life experiences along the journey.
Some life tiles are fortunate such as a bonus or an award in which the bank pays the player. Other tiles are unfortunate such as a natural disaster or a large unforeseen purchase and the player must pay the bank or other players due to circumstance.
Each player is required to stop at various points throughout the game to fulfill major obligations. These obligations include getting married, buying a house, and the option to go to night school for a chance at a higher-paying career card.
Past these stages lies the option to go the family route or not. Players choosing the family route are awarded with a number of children based on spins and the spaces they land on.
After kids, players choose to either continue on the safe path or to choose the “risky road.” Spaces on the jagged risky road are high risk, but also high reward.
The final decision in the game is to retire at Countryside Acres or Millionaire Estates to live out his or her final days in comfort. Once all players have retired, the game is over, and it’s time to compare.
Earnings are counted, debts are paid off, houses are sold, life tiles are redeemed for cash, and the bank reimburses players for children. The player with the highest net worth wins.
Sounds like a fun game right? It is. But for some, it’s more than a game.
This is life.
But can this “life” be considered living?
The goal of "Life" as a game is simple. Be the player with the most stuff at the end.
Regardless of what you do throughout your journey, the game teaches you to win at all costs by earning as much as you can while you can.
There are many effective and positive ways to accomplish this goal, but there are also opportunities to steal and cheat your way to the top.
Players are not judged on their decisions, but by their net worth. Regardless of the choices you make throughout the game, you ride off into the sunset retiring with millions in your pockets and a smile on your face.
Win at all costs. This is the art of “life.”
The art of living is much different.
I lead a Bible study on Friday mornings. Each Friday for the past few years, 10-15 of my friends meet at 7AM to dive into scripture and get vulnerable with one another about our lives.
The average age of the group is in the mid-twenties, which is arguably the most transformative period of this life. It is imperative that we start our adulthood on a solid foundation or risk everything to come after. Our careers, relationships, marriages, children, and retirement are on the line.
It all starts now.
I’m a big metaphor guy. One metaphor I use weekly is that of a ladder. I remind my guys each week “we are all climbing a ladder.”
Some are climbing faster than others. Some have fallen off the ladder and are making their way back up, and some are nearing the top already. Regardless of where we are, all of us are still climbing.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of climbing faster that we forget why we’re climbing in the first place. We focus so much on the next rung of the ladder that we fail to appreciate the rungs that got us to this point. We obsess about arriving at the expense of the journey to get there.
Of all the risks associated with the climb, there is one greater than the rest… Not knowing where your ladder leads.
“Pistol” Pete Maravich was a basketball star in the 1970’s.
Pete was extremely talented and driven averaging more than 40 points per game before the addition of the 3-point line. He was a powerhouse player, and his entire life was devoted to basketball. He graduated from LSU in 1970 and was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks signing the largest contract in NBA history.
This was his dream come true.
Pete’s career in Atlanta and eventually in New Orleans, Utah, and Boston proved to be successful. He had everything he ever wanted. Fame, fortune, and everything that goes with it -- to quote Queen -- he was the champion.
In 1980, Maravich suffered from a career-ending injury. Basketball was over.
His identity was gone.
While I’m sure he experienced momentary happiness through this search, nothing brought about the joy and peace he desired.
Until he met Jesus.
Maravich became a born-again believer and began speaking to others about his experience. In the late 1980’s Maravich gave his testimony at Shreveport’s Evangel Academy. “I climbed the mountain, and I made it to the top. I’m here to tell you it’s cold and lonely because there’s no one there to share it with.”
He goes on to talk about his dream of being the highest-paid NBA player coming true. “I signed the largest contract in NBA history. I couldn’t have been happier. Until the next day when another player signed for more.”
My favorite quote of his message is, “Money will buy you everything but happiness, and it will pay your fare to every place but Heaven.”
Regrettably, Pete passed away during a pickup basketball game dying in the arms of Focus on the Family founder, Dr. James Dobson. Pete was 40 years old.
I see myself and many of my peers in Pete Maravich and his story.
The sad part is the majority of us are still striving to achieve the life that Pete was warning us against. We are climbing the ladder without understanding where it leads.
To loosely quote Jurassic Park, we are so interested in whether or not we can reach the top that we fail to stop and ask ourselves whether or not we should.
When is enough, enough?
On the heels of this blog, I began re-reading the book of Ecclesiastes. King David’s son, Solomon, was the wealthiest, wisest king in history. Solomon experienced all that life has to offer in great splendor and excess, yet rendered it all “meaningless” outside of a relationship with God.
Ecclesiastes 5: 10-15
10 Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
11 As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?
12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.
13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
14 or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when they have children
there is nothing left for them to inherit.
15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
that they can carry in their hands.
From thousands of years ago to a couple of decades ago, the same advice echoes through the halls of history.
From King Solomon to Pete Maravich, we get prime examples that the life many of us are fighting for is empty. The top of this mountain is cold.
So what should we do?
It is much easier to get off a ladder from the bottom than from the top. For men and women my age, this is our inflection point.
This is our chance not to quit climbing, but to adjust our ladder or find another one to climb which leads us to a place worth reaching. A ladder you are able to climb with purpose and intention and delivers you to a place of peace and joy.
Not a place where you are compared against your peers by how much you earn, but rather by how much you give away. A place where you win not by what you make but because of who made you. A place where you experience the true peace and joy that can only be found in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
This is fulfillment. This is freedom. This is forever. Let’s live like it.
The world can teach you the art of life so you will die with it.
The Lord can teach you the art of living so you will live with him.