“Nothing is more practical than finding God."

Unless it’s called a “sport,” I’m not much into playing games. But when Sharon and I went on a day trip to Williamstown, Mass. recently, we stumbled upon a game that’s got us hooked. It’s called Bananagrams.  Someone has described Bananagrams as “Scrabble on steroids.” Instead of everyone working on the same crossword, each player works on their own crossword layout until all the tiles on the table are gone. Opportunities to pick up new letters and “dump” old ones keeps you from getting stuck for very long and also keep the game moving. It’s a hoot.

Since I seem to be better at spiritual teaching than playing table games, allow me to serve some “Banana Soup for the Soul” based on my ventures into the Bananagramdom thus far:

1. We all have to live our lives “in time.” 

Part of what it means to live in time is that we all have limited time. There are only so many waking hours in a day, and no matter how far we try to stretch them, they can’t extend beyond 24. Our bodies are locked in time. They need regular nutrition as well as frequent opportunities to get rid of waste. The movement of our bodies towards death is also unrelenting. Meanwhile, there are decisions we must make every hour if not every minute that will affect the quality and possibly even the length of our own lives and the lives of people throughout the world (e.g. the decision to buy Fair Trade coffee). Living “in time” means things are constantly happening that require a response. This can feel overwhelming, but it can also be interesting and exciting.

2. Living in time doesn’t mean we have to hurry.

Even after each player in Bananagrams has picked their alotted 21 tiles to begin the game, there are plenty of tiles on the table that must be gone through before the game is over. Especially at the beginning it’s really okay and usually more fruitful to “take your time.” That’s true in real life as well.

3. Just play your own game.

Professional golfers will often say this, especially going into the last day of the tournament. As much as possible, it’s important not to allow oneself to get rattled by the other players. When I first started playing Bananagrams, I would panic when Sharon had used up all her letters. Then I would see that there were still a ton of letters in the center of the table that had to be used up before the game was over. In the game of life, other people may seem to be ahead of us professionally, financially, relationally or spiritually. Watching other people may tempt us to hurry up or give up. There are any number of factors that determine the quality of a person’s life. Some are obvious, while others remain hidden. Some of them may not come into play until late in the game. What’s important is living in the moment.

3. Try to lay a good foundation.

When we first started playing Bananagrams, I would settle for 3 and 4 letter words, just to use up my tiles as quickly as possible. Then I would look up and see Sharon taking her time creating these l-o-n-g words that gave here so many more options later in the game. Laying a good foundation takes time, and it’s an ongoing process. This is true of our spiritual lives, marriages, family life and virtually every other endeavor.

4. Success requires the willingness to change and sacrifice.

Because life is always changing, we have to change. Different conditions require different responses. Often the changes involve risk. With Bananagrams this means being willing to “dump” letters and change words that you already have in place (and may feel very proud of). One of the reasons Sharon has a better won/loss record than me is that she’s willing to dismantle even long words in order to create new possibilities.

5. Enjoy the process.

Because Sharon finds the process exciting, even though she plays to win, she’s almost as happy when she loses. (I won’t say very much about myself in this regard.)

6. We all have to play the hand we’re dealt (or the tiles we’ve chosen).

In AA they call this accepting life on life’s terms. There is a fair amount of luck as well as skill in playing Bananagrams. Instead of being undone by the lack of vowels you have to work with or your abundance of Z’s and Q’s (with no U’s), it really works to keep looking for different possibilities and use the options the rules of the game offer you. The creators of Bananagrams clearly knew what they were doing. So did our Creator. We stay stuck only because we choose to stay stuck. Maybe we can’t change our circumstances (maybe). But there are almost always a variety of ways we can respond to those circumstances. As often as not, that’s where the real game is to be played.

Got game?

5 thoughts on “Banana Spirituality

  1. Why would someone, knowing they were stuck and fully understanding the ramifications, choose to stay stuck?? If it’s because they think addiction etc. provides more net pleasure than pain, then aren’t they misguided? And doesn’t seeing the light mean that now they see, they understand – and it’s at that point that they do the right thing…

    It seems to me that if choice is involved in spiritual growth, and my personal sense is that to some degree it is, it’s involved to a lesser degree than insight vs. self-ignorance.

  2. Nick Kellet says:

    Funny you should say “Scrabble on Steroids”.

    I think I heard that quote used on another game that I really like called “Amuze Amaze”. Or perhaps it was “Scrabble on Crack”. You have to franticly spell your way from one end of a random letter maze to another. Neat concept. Great components and gameplay.
    High replayability.

    Check it out. It won a Mensa Award (he says with a shade of envy)

    Anyway its fun. It’s by HL Games and I think its in Barnes & Noble. I I must confess I do know the inventors, it comes with the job.

    I’m actually a board game inventor myself and I love your analogies. I think that’s one of the most original / thought provoking approaches to reviewing a board game I’ve read in a long time – and I see quite a lot of reviews. Kudos to you 🙂

    Keep up the good work.

    If you’d like to try my board game and write a review let me know.

    You could have found a niche!

    It’s quite a spiritual game all about what are your dreams and passions and what are the passions of your friends. It’s called GiftTRAP.

    It’s won all sorts of awards including being voted “Best Party Game” by Games Magazine and Creative Child Magazine.

    It’s like Secret Santa, but as a board game. We have all sorts of diverse, funky, spiritual, eclectic, adventurous, charitable, eco gifts. We’ve pretty much got a gift for everyone.

    The challenge is can you match the right gift to the right friend – we use a very broad definition of the term “gift”. The game has some funny and morale based messages.

    It’s a fun way to find out how little you know some friends and a great way to get to know strangers.

    Cool posting. Nice writing style. Your about page had me smiling too. Let me know if you are interested in a free review copy. Keep up the great writing.

  3. Patty Stevens says:

    Rich, first let me say how lucky you are to have a wife (and boardgame oponent) like Sharon. How wonderful that she has that joy even when she loses – knowing how much work she has put into her fine words and the excitement that process has given her. I agree, that I don’t usually have that sense of joy in me at such times in boardgames or the game of life. I really want to hang with Sharon to have some of that rub off onto me!

    Thank you for your wonderful comparisons of this new game and how it can relate to our lives in God, with Jesus and The Holy Spirit. I’ve heard so much lately from others, in devotional readings, and from God about resting, not being afraid, trusting Him, and taking up His yoke. I need to keep hearing it. Reading about the 7 ways of living in time; not hurrying; playing our own game (and not worrying about what others think or do!); laying that foundation; being willing to change & sacrifice; while enjoying the process; and playing the hand (or tiles) we’re dealt makes me more sure that I cannot do any of it without resting in the Lord, trusting God’s ways, and taking His yoke and knowing He is with me each and every day.

    When you said on Sunday that “don’t be afraid” is listed 365 times in the Bible, I said to myself “yes, once for every day of the year”. It gave me insight to really realize that God has me in His hand each day of each year, and I don’t need to be afraid because He is right there with me each day. Thanks again for all you give us in your messages (both in person and in the blogs!).

  4. Paul, you raise a good question about why anyone would stay stuck unless they were misguided into thinking that there was a “net gain” in staying stuck. You mention addiction as an example. I’ve had a lot of addicts as well as recovering addicts as friends over the years. They will talk about the “stinking thinking” that goes with their addictions. Insight is important, as you indicate. AA and other recovery programs offer an enormous amount of insight — and a large percentage of addicts still go back to their addiction. That’s why the founders of AA talked about a spiritual solution — not just in terms of spiritual principles but spiritual power: “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” That power, of course, was God. I’ve done quite a bit of reading about the early years of AA, and the most successful AA groups were those that went so far as to emphasize the importance of a relationship with Jesus Christ. The Christian faith (when it’s running on all cylinders) isn’t just about doctrines and principles, it’s also about what the power of God can do in a person’s life. Sometimes people stay stuck because they don’t know how to get unstuck — their previous attempts have failed. Thanks for your thoughts. These are just a few of my own to keep the conversation going.

  5. Nick, thanks for your warm response. Sounds like your game could be really fun to play with a group of friends or strangers. I’m going to pass on the review copy, but thanks for your generous offer. (I don’t see myself writing too many board game reviews, but I do enjoy writing blog posts and sermons!)

    Patty, as always, I appreciate your honest interaction with what I’ve written or said. Isn’t it great that today is another day in which we don’t have to be afraid?

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