About two years ago, when it first was released, I got a text from a friend asking if I was playing the game Pokémon Go. He was much younger than I was, so I immediately scoffed at the text, secure in the fact that I was an adult.
And then I started playing it.
For those not in the know, the game is played on a smartphone where you hunt around looking for virtual creatures to capture and put into your collection. You must actually search the real world, as they are tied to specific locations. You also have to visit virtual “stops,” where you collect items that help you capture said creatures, and gyms, where your creatures train and earn you points. The more activity, the higher your rank, the more the benefits and clout in the game.
I became quite obsessed with the game’s intricacies, developing a high ranking with a big collection. The advertising motto of the game is “Gotta catch ‘em all,” and that was what I was going to do.
But then, it’s not just about getting them all but also about getting the best of what you have. So, I would look for the most powerful Pokémon and train them to be stronger. I would find reasons to go into town looking for them when I had no reason to. Then, they released “shiny” versions of these creatures, which don’t actually have more power but are trophies to have. These shinys were only available for the keenest of eyes, so more trips into town for that, because I couldn’t miss out on those. After that, they started with group capture events for really powerful creatures, so I joined a virtual group that would meet up to take them down. That was followed by “community day” when certain creatures would have a specific move that was only obtainable during a three-hour window, so for that small window I would wander the town looking to collect as many as I could.
I spent a lot of time playing, and it somewhat overwhelmed my life. Time that I could be spending doing productive activities or with family and friends was being consumed by the game. Even when I was with family and friends, I would still be secretly playing when they weren’t looking. This somewhat drug-like addiction of mine came to a head about a month ago, when it was Tyranitaur day, one of the most powerful and sought-after Pokémon, which would be available in shiny version and with the rare move of smack down. I would be king with this creature!
When the day came, I saw that my wife needed to be with me during that three-hour window. When I would normally go out PokeHunting, I stayed home with her. Now, don’t crown me a saint just yet: I was secretly climbing the walls knowing that I was missing out on this event. And when it ended, I missed out on the moveset and the shiny version, but it was then that I realized, so what?
Why was I so taken by something that would never love me back, pouring so much of my energy and time into a game that, realistically, comes to nothing in my life. I had nothing to show other than a high score, which isn’t exactly the message I want written on my tombstone: Here he lays, a level 39 Pokémon trainer. It was an accomplishment that didn’t matter. More importantly, I also realized that with missing out on this big event, there was going to be another big event around the corner, with many more big events to follow. In short: there’s always going to be another really sought after Pokémon upgrade and no amount of playing or collecting Pokémon was going to satisfy or fulfill me. In the amount and escalation of gameplaying I was doing, I was chasing after an unobtainable goal.
Now, although this example isn’t at first easily relatable to most, it serves a purpose as a model for similar experiences in our own lives. So, here’s another: a year or so ago, I couldn’t stay off social media. I was slowly sucked in to what others were doing, and I was reading everything that every one of my “friends” were posting, making sure to “like” or comment. Hours would pass where I was entrenched in the lives of others, but with each sitting, I had nothing to show afterwards. I wasn’t any closer to these people, and those people I was close with were further from me because of my inattentiveness.
In both cases, I found myself not necessarily choosing what I wanted to do but falling into something that consumed my life and time. Author and pastor Andy Stanley was quoted as saying, “We don’t drift in good directions. We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.” If we want to go where we need to go, we need to prioritize and make sure we go there. Without a conscious awareness of where we should be putting our time and energy, we usually choose what is easy instead of what is good.
Our priorities reflect our values. Luke writes, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (12.34). If we decide that our treasure is a meaningless chasing of social media, drugs and alcohol, career, or Pokémon, then that is where our heart is, and not in places where it should be (wives, husbands, children, family, and friends, etc.). And if we prioritize meaningless activities and practices, that fulfilment will be constantly elusive. But with the right prioritization, we can be satisfied.
Now, I still play Pokémon Go, but I’ve limited my time and energy put forth to it. It can still be an escape for me, but that’s all it should be. I’ve prioritized it lower on my list, which is what we need to do for ourselves. This week, figure out what your priorities are in your life, and evaluate how much time you are committing to those priorities. Compare that with what you are spending a lot of time doing, and see if those two lists match up. If they don’t, spend time in prayer and meditation developing a plan as to how to properly prioritize those things that are worth doing, and lessen those that aren’t worth your time. Amen.