It may come as a shock, but this is Tim writing, not Kathy. With the onslaught of Project 365, I have become a stranger to my own blog, nearly forgotten in the memories of my faithful readership (both of them). Not surprisingly, the number of people reading the blog has doubled since Kathy started writing in earnest … I’ll try not to read too much into that statistic. All this is just to say that those rumors about my demotion from ‘Contributor’ (one who posts blog entries) to ‘Subscriber’ (one who can only post comments) are false (or at least mostly so).
Not long after the new year dawned, Kathy and I had an opportunity to attend the Jefferson Baptist Church Prayer Conference. This blog entry is not about that conference, however many times Kathy and I have promised to write something about it.
One outgrowth of the conference, however, was a renewed interest in writing down goals for ourselves. As it was repeated many times during the conference, “a goal that is not written down is not a goal.” We were encouraged to come up with goals in all the areas that mattered to us — spiritual goals, relational goals, financial goals, personal development goals, the list goes on and on. This blog entry is not really about those goals, either.
Most people will, by this time, have lost patience with this tiresome litany of ‘what this blog is NOT’, so I ought to include a gratuitous picture, to satisfy the masses.
The conference speaker was asked by one of his congregants, “Do you play computer games?”, to which he answered, “Yes.” “How much time do you allow yourself to play?” She probed. “Half an hour a month,” he confided. He spoke at some length about his desire to use his time wisely and his recognition that computer games were a good way to be sucked into losing a lot of time that could be spent better in other pursuits. He likes playing some of the solitaire-style games, and so, once a month, he indulges. In retrospect, I probably should have skipped that session.
Are these math manipulatives?
On the way home from the conference, we thought about our parenting and the example that we (OK, mostly I) set in terms of leisure. I was convicted about the amount of time I allow my children to spend playing computer games, when they should, perhaps, be learning or playing interactively or serving others. While we don’t play that much during the week, some weekends have been dominated by computer gaming, especially during the dreary winter months here in Washington. We have noticed that when too much time is spent playing computer games, tempers grow short and a general spirit of churlish dissatisfaction descends upon the household.
I also became convicted about the amount of time that I spend playing computer games. A word of warning: if you allow the Holy Spirit to convict you in one area, don’t be surprised if that spills over to another area. Truth be told, Jesus is not satisfied with anything less than all of our heart — He’s greedy that way.
Kathy and I talked and prayed about it, and we came up with a strange scheme. Truth be told, the idea came up thanks to our love for the online casino games we play on verajohn.se during our free time. Each Wednesday, the participants in the computer-game-rationing plan receive several poker chips. Each chip represents a period of time, such that blue chips are one hour, green chips are two hours, and white chips (formerly red) are a half-hour. Initially we started with an allotment of four hours a week, but this was soon reduced to a scant three and a half hours a week. When anyone wants to spend a chip, they must announce it, hand over the appropriate chip to Kathy, grab a timer (we have several) and carefully monitor the time they spend.
One initial hurdle we needed to overcome was the fact that we didn’t actually have any poker chips. We’d been eyeing the ones at https://sixofthebest.co/best-poker-chips-set/ for some time now. We play a lot of cards, but we don’t gamble. There is a long story behind that, but it doesn’t figure prominently here, so I’ll skip it. We zipped over to the store and found a set of 50 blue clay poker chips, very satisfying in their weight and quality. Everyone enjoys clinking them together (the sound of a dropped chip rivets the attention of all). Sarah was at first very distraught that she was excluded from the rationing plan (she really doesn’t play any non-educational computer games). She was consoled by the promise that she could play with my chips any time she wanted, and the first week of rationing was launched.
“Whatever you do, Sarah, don’t drop Daddy’s chips!”
As it turns out, I am used to playing quite a bit more than 210 minutes of computer games in a week. (Thirty minutes of Pirates goes by astonishingly fast.) Three and a half hours sounds like a large number … I’m pretty sure I don’t want to divulge how much I played before we started rationing. Let me say that when I am busy, days and even weeks can go by without much intensive play, but when I am idle, I can put in two or three hours some evenings, and more than that on a Saturday.
One interesting outgrowth of the plan has been the ‘chip economy’ that has developed. When a person is low on chips, they can sometimes earn more by taking on extra chores or behaving in an exceptionally good way. It is astounding how cheerful some of us are about extra work around the house, now that this reward is available. There has also been a lot more collective watching — rather than spend a chip, some children find it entertaining to watch a sibling spend one. Joshua, Rachel and David are chip-misers (in varying degrees), while Daniel and I are chip-spenders. As of this writing, Joshua has nearly 20 hours saved up (he really hates being chip-poor) while Daniel and I have less than 5 hours (and only that because yesterday was ‘payday’). Last weekend Rachel paid David a half-hour chip to clean her room; both went away very satisfied with the transaction.
Daniel keeps careful track of his chips and knows EXACTLY how many he has at all times.
I find myself kicking my heels aimlessly in the evenings, some times, with a number of positive results. I’m more responsive to my younger two kids, and I’m more likely to help clean up the kitchen or talk to Kathy. I am playing many more board games than I used to, and I am enjoying some good books. I find that I am much more likely to spend time on Saturdays preparing for the Sunday School class I teach, and the time ‘lost’ working with the 5th and 6th graders on Wednesday evenings is not quite as painful as it used to be. Many nights I even go to bed earlier (a huge boon during allergy season).
Because of chip-hoarding, we had to buy some additional chips to round out the initial lot of 50 one-hour chips. First we found some cheap red, white and blue plastic ones, and we adopted the red chips as half-hour chips. Sadly, these were so different in shape and quality that they suffered the same fate which befell several one-dollar coins (e.g. the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the Sacagawea dollar), here in the USA. Yesterday I was browsing in the dollar store, and found a cheap set of plastic chips which (although they don’t clink like the original blue ones) were at least the same shape and size. We adopted the green and white chips from that set, and the chip-famine of 2007 was averted. (Prior to this, an ugly threat was circulating, to the effect that existing chip hoards might be ‘nationalized’. This caused some speculators to panic, with devastating results on the chip economy. Happily, wiser heads prevailed in the Fed, and an equitable and stable monetary policy was re-established.)
I can’t tell you where this will end … Kathy keeps threatening to further tighten the chip supply, perhaps down to three hours a week or even less. As much as it pains me to say it, I am glad that we have adopted this discipline, if only because it sets a good example of self-discipline to my children in an area where Kathy and I are both lacking. Daniel watches me like a hawk, and all the children are careful to squeal on me if I play ‘just a few seconds’ beyond my timer. In a twisted way, it has substantially heightened my enjoyment of the time I play computer games — I am careful to squeeze my money’s worth out of each half-hour chip.
I am reminded of the parable of the rich fool, as related in Luke 12, which I think relates to this topic:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
In thinking of how I want to be a good steward of the time that God has given me, I need to think in terms of building with gold, silver and precious stones, rather than with straw, hay and wood. I have no idea how much time I have left, and I want my time to count for something more eternal than my personal comfort or entertainment.
Or at least all but 3.5 hours a week.