Written by Harrison Unthank Kansas City Fellow – Class of 2016-2017
On Friday nights many Kansas City natives can be found downtown in the Plaza perusing the numerous shops that line the streets, or walking through Westport and hitting some of the bars along the way. As a Fellow there are numerous options of how to spend time as the work week comes to an end, but for me Friday night is saved for something unique to myself. Friday night is where you’ll find my orange Jeep parked outside of 31st Century Games; a hobby and card shop known for hosting a variety of “nerdy” events. On this particular night I indulge in a sort of “Cardboard Crack” as it has been called and play a strategy game called Magic: The Gathering. Magic is the best way I know how to glorify God through competition, and I believe it’s one of the main reasons he gave me the desire to play the game.
As humans, competition is an integral part of who we are. We want to win, be lifted up, and exalted among others as superior. We want others to tell us how great we are, and following that same line, how much better we are than them. We want to be…..God.
That’s why we compete, right?
But competition isn’t all bad. As a KC Fellow I’ve been learning what it looks like to worship God through our work, and I think a competition is very similar to a job. In fact, you could even make an argument that competition is work, to at least some degree. Before you compete you train and set goals, and then you strive to achieve those goals when you compete. Those same things happen in work. For the past 22 years of our lives we have been training and setting goals, and now we are headed out to try and achieve them.
Being the eldest child of three boys, I almost always had a leg-up on my brothers when we would compete amongst ourselves. Be it video games, sports, or music, I was always a few steps (and a few motor skills, more likely than not) ahead of them. Victory continued to come regularly for me in life even as I moved into high school. The idea of winning became everything to me. I reviled the concept of losing so much, it morphed into hating failure in general. I walked away from areas where I would potentially fail, and stopped competing in events where I wasn’t a favorite to win.
Clearly I needed an intervention from God.
During my sophomore year of college I was introduced to Magic. The game seemed simple enough to initially grasp, had a lot of intricate rules, and allowed me to pit my mind against another individual’s. More than that, I just really enjoyed the game at some deep level. As I slowly and awkwardly integrated myself into the local FNM (Friday Night Magic) scene in Lubbock, Texas, I quickly realized how broken this community is. The interesting thing about Magic players is they are all broken in some way, but each of them are broken in a completely unique way. Some players can afford multiple decks and lord it over others. Others can’t stand losing, such as myself. Lastly, there are those who deal with home issues by escaping into a strategy game with people similar to themselves. Magic is the only part of their week they enjoy.
It was at this moment that God showed me all of humanity inside a cardboard game.
It became clear to me that this was the reason God decided to make me enjoy something silly like a card game rather than something equally silly like throwing a dead animal’s skin through a hoop (albeit, this is infinitely more lucrative I’m told). I realized my heart for the “outsider” was put to use every Friday night where I could be the one guy that actually cared about my opponent. Through this understanding, God changed my heart for competition.
So what did I learn from this moment? Well, I first had to realize what it meant to truly compete for God.
- I think the main problem I had when I competed was aiming to best my human rival, rather than try to use the talents God had given me to the best of my ability. When we start each competition by saying “God, I want to compete against my old self, and try to do even better today for you”, we come into the competition with love in our hearts.
- The next issue I addressed is seeing the game from the other person’s point of view. In football, perhaps they have a couple of injured players and luck isn’t on their side. Through the eyes of our competitors we can find compassion for them.
- Lastly, I remembered that none of it mattered outside of glorifying God and showing my opponent what God looks like. I think this is one of Solomon’s greatest contributions to Christian knowledge in that at the end of the day we all will return to the Earth regardless of how good we were at ping pong (paraphrased).
With that said, enjoy competition. God made us to compete and delight in the skills he has given us. Don’t forget to enjoy the victory God gives you after your hard work, but remember God is equally pleased with how you handle defeat.