A Geek’s Thoughts on Personal Improvement: Level Up or Let It Go?

There’s nothing like a solid stats increase in an RPG to get a gamer geek’s heart to thrill. (But I don’t know why my husband has to SHOUT so loudly when it happens for him. If I die by heart attack at an early age, now you’ll know why.) It’s funny how stoked we get seeing little digital numbers going up a few points to serve an algorithm that basically boils down to “bigger, stronger protagonists fight bigger, stronger enemies”. I wonder if anyone keeps a keen eye on those number increases to determine exactly how much they altered the amount of damage their playable character gives and receives. I know I never notice.

But I still love watching those level boosts.

Level-ups in life are even more satisfying (though they naturally take more work). You can’t help puffing up a bit when you cook that meal a little tastier, sew that stitch a little neater, grow that plant a little greener. In faith we want to pray a little longer, discern a little deeper, love a little greater, represent Christ a little closer. Commendable improvements, one can’t deny!

Except…well, is it always right to strive for higher life levels? Do you think a Christian should ever…let it go?

If you get too obsessed with those level-ups, you’ll start to grind. And while grinding in a game produces beefed-up, OP characters, in real life it typically results in crumbs.

If your aim is to get “better”, at which point does that become your target focus – even your idol – to the point of consuming the very faith you wish to improve?

With guidance from a mentor in my life, I came to the realization that if I stripped away my spiritual leveling, I didn’t really have a solid basis for my faith. Oh, the factual, logical foundation was there (another “stat” to continually improve, after all!)…

…but I realized I’d forgotten how to love God and I’d forgotten if He even loved me.

That epiphany strikes hard when life reminds you: Level-ups aren’t as permanent as your gaming diversions make them out to be. As humans, we fail. We forget. We backslide. When my level-ups became my hope of proving just how saved I was, I couldn’t hold onto grace beyond all my walls of works.

It’s a balancing act, to be sure. Paul said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) But James said, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:26) It’s the constant teeter-totter of Christian living and discussion, and maybe some fall on one end more than the other.

I can’t speak for those who willingly “sin more that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). That’s not my struggle. I’m just an over-achiever seeking to understand a mercy that sometimes seems too free, like there should be a catch somewhere. In my efforts to be worthy of that mercy, what can I offer those who are hurting, empty, lonely, wondering if there’s something more? “Put your faith in Christ, because…you can do your best to live a good life?” That’s not going to cut it. Most already think living a good life is enough for this world.

So I, personally, am going to let go of the level-ups for a time. (Note: I’m not going wild, crazy, into debauchery. This isn’t my rebellious phase.) I want a love of God, and His love for me, to inform my improvements. Without that, I may as well be a clanging cymbal or repetitive level-up jingle.

Amanda Bizeau-Nicol

Amanda’s love for video games started way back when she used to watch her brother play the NES; one day, she decided to pick up the controller herself, and the rest is history! She's currently working to upload her longtime fanfic work - The Fluffy Tadpole - to Archive of Our Own. In her spare time, she writes fiction, cross-stitches, whips her husband at puzzle games, and creates Myers-Briggs profiles for fictional characters. (Shh… It’s all perfectly normal…)

2 Comments

  1. John on April 27, 2020 at 11:19 am

    I think what you’re saying is a good point, but could perhaps be phrased a little better. We are called to constantly strive for perfection (try to level up), but we need to make sure that we are doing what is right because it is what God wants and not get distracted by the thought that we’re so much better now than we used to be. Do it for God, not for pride.

    God bless.

    • Amanda on May 12, 2020 at 4:43 pm

      Agreed! I suppose that’s what I mean by making our “leveling” into an idol: the focus is no longer our love for God and desire to obey him more closely, but rather the focus turns to how much we want to impress God on our own efforts. Earning salvation, in a way. (At least, that’s how it is for me.)

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

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