Dutiful Gamblers Anonymous

I could easily be addicted to gambling. It’s hard to know this for a fact without testing it out, but I figure my childhood experience at Primary School fetes gives a fair indication.

My parents would give me $5 to spend at the fete – a huge sum for a child in those dim and distant days. It should have got me a sausage sandwich, some fairy floss and perhaps some little treasure from the ‘White Elephant’ stall.

No, it got me as far as the ‘Lucky Envelope’ stall where I’d proceed to cautiously spend $2 buying tickets, win a bit or win my money back, feel lucky, then blow the rest of my cash in one fell swoop. It was always on that second go that I would LOSE EVERYTHING.

I say always, because it took me a few years of school fetes to see a pattern emerging.

Recently, on a little mini break with friends, we were scheduled (much to my dismay) to play a French game with numbered tiles. I don’t much like French. The language, that is. The people are lovely, I’m sure. I certainly don’t love numbers. I like my game tiles to have letters on them, with numbers merely serving the purpose of scoring the letters.

Well, to my delight, one of the more attentive of our group, noticed that there was some kind of false bottom on the coffee table of the holiday cottage. We soon discovered that there was a marvellous collection of gambling games under the table top! There was even a roulette wheel!! I had only ever seen these marvels in movies – and here was one right in front of us!

My friends agreed to play one game (I persuaded them to play three). No money changed hands. The mathematician among us won. It was actually pretty boring and nothing at all like the glamorous, tension-filled scenes in the movies. I liked using the little scraper thing that gathers all the lost chips, but that was the extent of the delights for me.

We then moved to the dreaded French game with numbers. They somehow convinced me that if you lost (or won? I can’t remember) you had to sing the French National Anthem. I complained that I didn’t know it – but I could remember my Primary School Anthem. Don’t ask me how. I couldn’t tell you the names of most of my friends at school but I can somehow tell you the words of the anthem.

You must imagine a stirring, but annoyingly addictive tune as you read:

Above the river stands the hillside

And above the hillside stands the trees.

Above the trees there stand the mountains,

Gazing eastward to the seas.

Above our pleasure put our duty.

Hold our heads high loyal and true.

But our honour, this above all,

For our school, Mt.Riverview.

As I sang to my friends that evening, I was struck for the first time by the emphasis on putting duty above pleasure. I don’t believe you’d find that affirmation in any current school song. Perhaps schools don’t have songs anymore? Perhaps the children are encouraged to compose their own song? Pleasure would no doubt be encouraged (and perhaps it should be) and the only duty would be the duty to be true to one’s self and achieve one’s best.

In my school song, our duty seemed to be toward our school – certainly our honour was to be for the school, above anything else. If the song was to be sung with any conviction and integrity, we should all have given our whole lives to the service of our local primary school. At that age I’m not sure we would have known how to do that – apart from turning up each day, not passing notes in class, and standing in straight lines when lines were required – or even when they weren’t.

I liked school. But I wouldn’t have given my life for it.

I am, however, all for duty. I’m quite compulsively dutiful. This addiction to duty doesn’t make me a better person. In fact it can sometimes make me quite a pain to be around and, when I fail at my duty, rather gloomy company.

Recently I had to be given a new, temporary duty: the duty to drop pretty much every other duty and rest. It had to be put to me like that – a duty – otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the command seriously.

It’s a sad reality when someone has to dutifully rest from obsessive duty. There were other factors that contributed to my tiredness – but one factor was the upholding of duty.

It’s not that replacing duty with pleasure is the answer either. I tried that. It just felt a little empty. And pleasure, no matter how good and wholesome, only lasts for a moment.

It turns out, after dutifully resting and gaining perspective, that the answer is the same as it’s always been. It’s all about what, or who, you honour.

I didn’t honour my Primary School. But I have at times honoured others above the God who made me and them. In the end that honouring of others and their needs was a form of honouring myself above God. I was forgetting to keep pointing them (and myself) to the Lord who can fix the problems they have and take the burdens they carry.

Rest is one of the best ways to honour the Lord. It’s a way of saying ‘I can stop for awhile because God never stops.’ More than that, he doesn’t need to stop. His energy and strength is boundless. He’s in control, not me, so I can take a break. I can be weak because he is strong.

For a few weeks I did become addicted to sleep and compulsive napping – but I needed it. Now I’ve had a rest I can see things a little more clearly – me, others, and the God whose honour I live for.

That’s a duty worth being addicted to. A duty I can rest in. A duty that brings pleasure that lasts forever.



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