6th Sunday of Easter (C) – May 22, 2022
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29
Finite Games vs. Infinite Games
As I’m sure you are all aware, there are two types of games: finite games and infinite games. A finite game is a game in which there are (1) known players, (2) fixed rules, and (3) a clear and agreed-upon objective. Take basketball for example. (1) There are known players: five players on each side. (2) There are fixed rules with a team of officials to enforce the rules. (3) And there is an arbitrary, but clear and agreed-upon objective: the team with the most points after time runs out is the winner. That’s a finite game: players, rules, objective—winner and loser.
But an infinite game, an infinite game is one in which there are (1) known and unknown players, (2) where some rules fixed, but some are changeable and not always clearly defined, and (3) where the objective is to perpetuate the game, to never stop. The infinite game involves a radical openness, a radical embrace of the unpredictable. For example, no one “wins” friendship. Or even though you get grades and someone can graduate top of the class, no one “wins” education. Or in your relationship with your spouse, there isn’t a winner or a loser. No! That’s not how relationships work. The “objective” of that relationship isn’t to “win.” The objective is to perpetuate the “game,” to love one another forever. You would never say, “I won my marriage!” No, that’s stupid. But in a good marriage, in any good relationship based in love, each and every day you wake up and find your life determined by the other, by your love for them. Everything in your life is determined by them because you love them. And you never want that to end, never.
Faith As a Finite Game: Trust Myself
So often we can live our lives as if they were finite. (1) There are the players: me, myself, and I. (2) There are the rules we make for ourselves: “I’ll do this, but I am not going to do that.” And (3) there is a clear, but arbitrarily established objective: “I’ll only be happy if this, this, and this happen.” Is that just me? Or does that sound familiar?
And on top of that, we can think of our faith, being Catholic like this. We “play” our faith like any other of our finite games. (1) There are known players: me and God. (2) There are fixed rules: go to Mass, pray the Rosary, fast on Fridays, follow the Ten Commandments. And (3) there is a clear and agreed-upon objective: when time runs out, when you die, you get to go in one of two directions; there are “winners” and “losers.”
But as we all know, things don’t always go as we planned; life doesn’t go as planned, as we hoped. And this can leave us feeling incredibly alone and anxious. We play this game that we have established, with these arbitrary rules and expectations we have set, and then can feel as if we are losing the game when things don’t go as planned. We start to blame others, blame ourselves, blame the Lord. Instead of God being our savior, God is our competitor. We spend so much time and energy trying to make ourselves happy, trying to invent some game that we can win that will make us happy. But as we know, even in the best of circumstances, even when our plans go as planned, when we win our games, not even then are we fulfilled. And something is still missing.
When our faith is nothing more than just another one of our finite games, it can easily become just another thing we have to do, just another one of our games we keep playing, just another game that can begin to make no sense. And it’s easy to start to think that it makes no difference whether you believe in God or not, whether you pray or not, whether you go to Mass or not (c.f., Francis, Lumen Fidei, 17).
I have shared many times about how all I wanted in life were a few things: to be a doctor, to get married, to have a family. That’s all I wanted. And those are not bad! But, they were the plans I made because I trusted only in myself. They were my standards for a good life and happiness. They were my beliefs that this life is all there is, so I better do what I want to do while I can do it. I was living my life as if it were finite, as if one day it would all come to an end.
And for the longest time, I couldn’t understand why doing everything I wanted to do wasn’t making me happy. I couldn’t understand. There I was studying, working hard, chasing the goals I had, but never feeling truly happy, always feeling like there was something missing, always feeling like I could be so much happier and more fulfilled in life. Even when I had the good grades, and the beautiful girl, and everything—even then, I couldn’t figure out why life felt so dry and boring.
Faith As An Infinite Game: Surrender to Christ
But then one day the Lord smacked me in the face, and I decided to try something new: I decided to give my life to the Lord, to place my life in his hands, to ask, “Lord, what is your plan for me? What is the way you want me to walk?” And to surrender my life to Him. And when I trusted in his plan, when I surrendered, when I followed his way, when I truly began to believe in the resurrection and all that it entails, then life opened up, then life became charged with meaning and life and joy and happiness—a life and joy and happiness that I could not produce.
What changed? I stopped living my life as if it were a finite game. I stopped living my faith as if it were a finite game! I stopped seeing life as some game to win, and rather as a beautiful journey, a journey that when traveled with the Lord results in a meaning and joy and happiness that I did not create, that flowed from Him. And I am by no means standing up here pretending that I’m perfect at this; no, it’s about seventeen and a half times a day that I slip back into thinking that it all depends on me and how hard I can work and what I can do and what “good ideas and plans” I can come up with; and then there is the stress and anxiety and worry. And yet there comes that gentle reminder: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” We’re playing a different game. And in this game, this infinite game, the goal is surrender to the Lord, each and every day.
The Infinite Game’s “Reward”: A Peace the World Cannot Give
Life is not finite. Our faith is not finite. No, this is eternal, it is infinite, and eternal life starts now! The Lord has laid out a plan before you, a way to walk, and it is a way which leads only to happiness and fulfillment and joy. And he asks you to follow him, to trust him, to surrender your life into his hands. This can be terrifying—trust me, I know—because it can feel like we’re not doing things like we should be doing them, we’re not being rewarded like we think we should be rewarded.
But the Lord does not ask us to walk a path that makes us miserable. It’s just that the way that the world measures and identifies success—well, not as the world gives does Christ give (c.f., John 14). And yet, counterintuitively, he fulfills us, he gives us a newness of life, he gives us his own life. Again, it doesn’t make a lot of sense! The “math” doesn’t work! And yet it does.
There is a reward to surrendering your life to the Lord, there is a prize to be had even now: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Peace. And not just the absence of conflict, not just everything being “good” in your life, no. Peace. The peace of Christ. A peace which the world cannot give. A peace that remains even when everything around you says you should not have any peace. A wholeness and completeness and fulfillment that the world cannot give.
Try it. This week. Seriously, try it. In very real, very concrete ways—maybe write them down—surrender your life into the Lord’s hands. Place your life in his hands. Start small or go big and go home. But then pay attention. Pay attention to the ways that the Lord responds, to the ways a peace not from yourself, not from anything you did—but the peace that flows from the newness of life won in his death and resurrection begins to invade you life, begins to make your life new.