Editor’s note: If you missed part one, click here.
Christianity turns into a roller coaster ride when you run on feelings. You go up and down, perhaps feeling as though you’re making progress. Sooner or later, you realize the track just goes in circles. I rode that roller coaster for years, and this is what it looked like (tell me if this sounds familiar):
1. Life is all right. Go to church. Don’t think about God too much.
2. Life gets rough, confusing, etc.
3. Have a powerful experience with God (ideally at a camp, conference, retreat, etc.).
4. Make a lot of commitments about how life will never be the same again.
5. Eventually, life becomes the same again. Loop the loop, lean into the turns, repeat. Ad nauseum.
By the time I was finished with high school, I had become accustomed to the ride. I had come to terms with the unhealthy nature of my video game habit and given up hope that there was anything else for me. There aren’t many things easier in life than lowering your expectations.
So even though I somehow found myself at a church camp the summer after I graduated from high school, I already knew what to expect. I knew I would get thoroughly emotional, I knew that I would feel bad about all my sins, and I knew that I would go home and forget about the whole thing in two weeks’ time.
Side note: It’s strange for me to write about that troubled season of my life because it is so far removed from who I am now. It’s not even that I’ve left video games behind (I run a website about them!) as much as I just see them in a completely different light. You see, in its purest form, the Gospel is not about making us into better versions of ourselves. It is about the fact that God is perfectly in love with us, even as we are. When you begin to glimpse the grace of God, it frees you from the roller coaster of “trying to be more like Jesus” and enables you to finally begin the journey of simply following after Him. That’s when you start moving forward; that’s when He begins transforming you.
What happened at that camp is still difficult for me to explain. Was it sovereignty? Did I make a choice? Was I was the one who was ready to change, or did God simply decide to change me?
I could continue a narrative, but the truth is that I have no clue which events were truly significant and which were only incidental. So instead, let me present you with five things that I’ve learned about leaving a video-game addiction behind.
Compulsion is a symptom
The reason compulsions are rarely healed by addressing them directly is because they are a “fruit,” not a “root.” There is always an untold story behind every visible dysfunction (even if that story is as simple as the fall of Adam). People who are caught in cycles of compulsive behavior do not need to be told that their habits are self-destructive. They need to be shown that there actually is a way out. The way out is not found in trying harder but in dealing with the thing that caused the dysfunction in the first place.
Video games are not to blame
People have found things to be addicted to for millennia before video games ever existed. The medium of video games, like anything, is neither intrinsically good or evil. They can be used for evil, but they can also be used for great good. Just look at the completely conflicting studies that have been done in the past few years.
Hope is found in grace, not in works
Faith without works is dead, but before God’s grace comes and activates our faith, we are not even capable of redeeming ourselves through works. If we could, we would learn to rely on ourselves, not on God.
Grace doesn’t mean easy
Grace is a Person, not a feeling. What that means is that, even after you’ve had a revelation of that Person, you will still have to make hard choices. I found freedom from the things I struggled with by actually moving away from home for a year and living at a church, going through a “discipleship program.” It was weird to explain to my friends, but ultimately, it was worth it.
This really matters
In a world filled with injustice and suffering, there are far too many people who spend their lives campaigning for virtual causes in virtual worlds. Chances are, if you feel like you play an unhealthy amount of video games, spend an unhealthy amount of time online, or have an unhealthy fixation with anything, you either haven’t fully understood the Gospel or you haven’t found a place to live it out.
The reason I’m interested in video games, and the reason you should be too, is because there are millions of people compulsively doing something, and Jesus is passionately in love with them. They don’t need to be told that there is something wrong with their hobby—they simply need Christ and his Kingdom represented to them in true and authentic ways.
Jordan Ekeroth is a regular contributor at Gamechurch and editor of Follow and Engage, an ongoing project to bring attention to the ways that Christians are interacting with video game culture. Follow it on Twitter.