Every few months my kids become obsessed with a new game. It’s never something I would be drawn to on my own, and always something that requires purchasing packs and packs of some sort of (overpriced) trading cards, little (overpriced) plastic figurines, or the like. They’ll play before school. They’ll play outside with the neighbor kids. They’ll play when they’re supposed to be getting ready for bed (sigh). They’ll play every chance they get.
One morning the two of them sat in our sunroom for hours playing the latest game. I zipped around in happy productivity, occasionally peeking in or quietly slipping a snack onto the table. (You never, ever, want to disturb the precious balance of two children happily enjoying one another’s company. But you do want to make sure it lasts, so snacks are a must.)
While they played I’d occasionally hear Breckin call out, “Redo! Redo!” as he’d realize his last move wasn’t good, or he’d chosen the wrong card, or he’d set his brother up for the kill. As the morning went on he upped the frequency of his request. I braced for an argument—how many times is his brother going to go along with this? Ellington has got to realize that he’d be significantly ahead without all the second chances he’s given. Yet no argument came, and they happily went on this way until lunchtime.
Later on I mentioned this dynamic to Ellington. “Breckin sure asked for a lot of redoes! I don’t know why you kept giving them to him…”
He smiled and shrugged, “I just really wanted to play.” (Heart officially melted.)
It’s not often our natural instinct to give someone a redo. After all, sometimes when we let someone try again it means they win, and we lose. This is just as true in our relationships as it is in a card game—but the stakes are even higher. It’s far easier to cut someone out than to let her try to win back our trust again. It’s far easier to let a co-worker look bad for her poor planning than it is to help her out, knowing she’ll be the one taking all the credit.
Yet, often this is what it means to be selfless. Often this is what it tangibly looks like to put someone else first. This is what it means to value relationship over being right, that there are times we give someone a free pass. When we let a rude remark slide, when we resist the opportunity to nail someone to the wall. We offer grace whether deserved or not.
Of course sometimes we need to draw a line. Sometimes it’s unwise to look the other way at an infraction, or when an unhealthy relationship is trampling all over our boundaries. This is not what we’re talking about. We’re not ignoring or condoning abuse. We’re not inviting others to take advantage of us. None of us needs to operate as a doormat. It’s quite the opposite. When we’re confident in ourselves and sure of our own boundaries, we’re free to extend grace, give a little extra at times, and turn the other cheek.
I bet we can all think of a recent experience when we’ve been quick to retaliate and slow to offer grace. We’ve made a point that didn’t need to be made. We’ve said things that could have been left unsaid. And we won. But even as we’ve come out on top, we know deep down that this isn’t what winning feels like.
Last year I got together once or twice a week to play tennis with a couple friends. We could've used a fourth, but we were pretty picky about who we’d invite in to our games. We'd be open to enough of a competitive edge to make things fun, but tempered with a relaxed nature that understands no one is going home with a trophy. Sometimes when one of us had a weak toss or hit the net the opponent would call out, “Go ahead and serve it again.” Because we wanted to play more than we wanted to win. We wanted the enjoyment of the competition, the fun of nailing a shot, and a great return. We wanted to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate one another’s improvement—even if it meant that sometimes we lose the match.
When we’re secure in our identity we can give away grace and redoes without worry. We know who we are and we don’t have to prove ourselves or scrape to be on top. We’re holding our tongues. We’re letting small grievances slide. We’re forgiving. We’re letting others have the best sometimes, even if we’re strong enough and fast enough to get to it first. Because playing the game is always better than the easy score, and friendships are best when we can cross the finish line arm in arm.