Pokémon has been on my mind as of late, with the release of the 7th generation on the horizon and having recently completed a playthrough, myself, on my old blue version cartridge. It is mind-boggling to reflect on how far the series has come since its initial release in the United States 18 years ago. At the hazard of seeming old, I recall coming home from school one day to find that a VHS tape had arrived in the mail informing us that a new game called Pokémon was coming to America. I cannot begin to guess how many hours since then I’ve passed playing it. For those who may be unfamiliar with the franchise, Pokémon is a game in which you collect, train, and battle creatures called pocket monsters (Pokémon for short). Along the way you earn badges by defeating the leaders of eight Pokémon gyms, thwart the plans of the nefarious Pokémon gangsters known as Team Rocket, encounter one-of-a-kind legendary Pokémon, and ultimately face off against the most powerful trainers in the land, the Elite Four, in order to claim the title of the Pokémon League Champion.
As might be expected, the more memorable parts of this experience are things like encountering new Pokémon and putting it all on the line in battles against strong trainers. However, between these portions, there are stretches of time spent making your own Pokémon stronger by repeatedly battling wild Pokémon to gain experience and reach higher levels. This is easily the most monotonous part of the experience and is often referred to in this and other games with similar mechanics as “grinding.” Tedious or not, grinding is vital to continued progress through the game: walking into a gym under-leveled will result in a bad time being had.
In our spiritual lives, as with Pokémon, grinding is a necessary part of our journey. It is not exciting and it is not glamourous, but it is essential to our continued progress. Sometimes we get the impression that a successful Christian life consists of transitioning from one glorious mountaintop experience to the next, and anything else means that we aren’t doing something right. Such a perspective of Christianity, though, is simply incorrect. Giving our lives to Christ entails a shift in our perspective that changes how we see ourselves, others, and the world. Accordingly, our faith comes to permeate every aspect of our lives, even the mundane. For a Christian, even the routine of the daily grind plays a role in our spiritual growth and development. For it is primarily in this setting that we live out our faith and make good on the proclamations we make during Sunday worship.
Our set times of devotion are also subject to the experience of grinding. As we navigate the hills and valleys of our spiritual lives, we will inevitably find that, during some periods, reading Scripture is less invigorating than before or that our prayer time seems dry. However, this does not mean that they are no longer profitable for us to practice. As a matter of fact, it is at such times that our commitment to spending time with God is of the utmost importance. Consider the parable of the sower (Matt 13:1-9). In it, Jesus speaks of seed that falls in four different places and the results from each. One of these places is referred to as “stony” (having little soil) and the seed that falls here springs up quickly because the soil is not deep. However, these plants are just as quickly scorched by the sun and wither because they have no roots. Later, Jesus explains the meaning behind the parable of the sower and says the following:
“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a little while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”
What this gets at is the question of what we do when things are suddenly no longer all sunshine and lollipops. How deep do our roots go? Are we in it for the experience or are we committed to something that goes beyond our daily feel-good barometer?
It may not seem like we are accomplishing much when it is all we can do to still sit down to read our Bibles and pray each day. However, in so doing, we are practicing obedience and patience, among other things. We are coming to relate to God as being worthy of our devotion, not because of what we get out of it, but because of Who He is. As we remain faithful, our faith continues to mature and be further grown. While it may seem pointless and maybe even miserable at the time, when we have the chance to look back with the benefit of hindsight, we can see just how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown through that time.
Grinding is a part of our spiritual growth, plain and simple. There will be times when it will be required of us in order to progress as Christians just as we must put in time grinding in order to progress in Pokémon. In both cases, we persist in spite of the monotony because we are pursuing something greater. We keep our eyes set on the goal ahead and keep going so that we may finish well.