One of the great travesties of the 90s is how fear of something difficult to understand convinced well-meaning Christians that Dungeons and Dragons was akin to the occult. I blindly believed this, so when the amazing, godly man I was dating told me that he was really big into playing it, I was shocked and frightened. He was super good at explaining things and reassured me that it was no closer to the occult than the works of Tolkien, and I had been practicing setting aside my assumptions about things to really listen, so it all worked out and we got married.
After seeing how he would go to gaming sessions and have a great time and lose track of time and have social experiences WITHOUT ME, I let him introduce me to this world. And let me tell you, I flourished. Combination of friendship, acting, and storytelling? That’s my jam right there. I’m really glad that I trusted him with this because it has taught me a lot about myself, compassion, the world, and God.
You see, when you are roleplaying, you are putting yourself into a world that you have a different perspective on. You are solving problems that you are really outside of. You are taking risks that ultimately are completely safe because you can put down your dice and still have an income tomorrow. Roleplaying gives you the chance to practice things in a safe environment. And what we practice, we become better at. So when we practice making personal sacrifices to help people in need, our brains actually start building the neuropathways so we fall into it more naturally when we see it in our actual lives!
This has been present in my mind this week for two major reasons. The first reason is I have started leading (officially, I’m called the Dungeon Master or DM) a roleplay group for my oldest son and some of his friends. Secondly, I have been talking in my Bible study group about perfectionism. Let me help you connect those two seemingly different things.
Let’s start by talking about perfectionism. This is something I know very well because I have this in spades. I got this idea early in my Christian development that doing everything perfectly glorified God (or created a better representation of Him). I was driven by the idea that if I failed, if I messed up in my life or didn’t do something perfectly, someone could potentially have a reason to reject Jesus as Savior. That’s some pretty high stakes! So because such hellish results might come from my failure, I used my fear of it to generate a lot of adrenaline to give me one of two results. Either I’d be paralyzed by the fear and take no risk or I’d use the adrenaline to generate greater outcomes.
As a result, I have few episodes of failure in my life (and the examples I have are very potent in my memory). However, the practice of driving myself by fear of failure has taken a real toll on my body, and I struggle with anxiety in really palpable ways.
Naturally, I don’t want my kids to do that, too. I want them to be able to see their mistakes as part of the process. I want them to challenge themselves to take risks.
One way that I’m doing that is by making this D&D group for my oldest. See, there is risk in everything you do while roleplaying. Whenever you want to do anything, you tell the DM (the storyteller) and (s)he tells you to roll the dice (and add the number for how good you are) to see if you are successful or not. So there is a possibility for failure in everything that you do. But I want the kids to not take failure so personally (or cheat by lying about what number their die rolled). So I assured them that they can accept success or failure because their storyteller (me) is on their side and is working to make a story that will accomplish my purpose (to build their friendship and fun). I told them that their failure adds to the story just as vibrantly as their success. And so they believe, I give a story about an epic failure I’ve seen while playing, like the following.
In one gaming session, our characters had been on a boat for several weeks. When we disembarked, the dwarf wanted to find some ale. So she said she would look for the inn. My husband, the DM, told her to roll to see if she could find the inn. She rolled an abysmal failure. So he told her she really thought the inn was that building that was basically just out of town. We all knew she was heading to a residence, but her character did not. Her character proceeds to frighten the bejeebers out of a poor widow who she mistakes for the barkeeper into giving her this rare dwarven ale until she comes to the realization that this probably isn’t really the inn. This whole, hilarious scene that had all of us rolling in laughter was the result of her accepting the fact that she was not perfect. Which she could do, because she knew she could trust the storyteller.
This has helped me think about my own relationship to my perfection and my Storyteller. What does my fear of failure (and the drive towards success that it results in) say about my trust for my Storyteller? Do I believe that He can bring something great, some amazing story of redemption from my failure?
During this time in my life, I feel my failure pretty palpably. Because of the struggles that I’m having with my anxiety, I just am unable to do everything I think I need to do successfully. Like feeding my children healthy food. Or calmly having faith when things are uncertain and stressful in my life.
To healthily deal with these failures, I need to change my perspective.
First, I need to remind myself not to take failures personally. Just like that character’s inability to find the inn had to do with factors other than just her abilities, I have to remind myself that there are other things at play in my problems than whether or not I’m good at it (or worth anything). Just like the contents of my child’s toilet do not define my worth as a mother, my significance is not because of what I do or produce. My value has been imputed to me by Christ’s work on the cross. The way He sees me (take Eph 1: 3-14 for example) demonstrates my true import.
Secondly, I need to remind myself about the character of my Storyteller and His relationship to me. Good news, the Bible is full of promises about that.
I can trust that God is really on my team. He’s promised to be on my side. For instance, Romans 8:31:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
I can also know that His plans for me are good. Jeremiah 29:11 promises that:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Not only that, God’s proven Himself to me throughout my life. I know Him to be crafting the perfect story, this story of redemption for the world. In reality and in roleplaying, redemption stories are my favorite.
And I’m so honored to be included as a character in His, failures and all.