Joshua’s love for God was evident. Kind, gentle, and always willing to serve others, this young man stood out among his peers. I was impressed by his desire to work with the youth in his urban church—kids who often did not have the blessing of growing up with a stable and loving father. I assumed that Joshua was the kind of guy God could use beyond what anyone could hope or imagine. Because I knew Joshua led a full and busy life as a husband, student, full-time employee, and church volunteer, I was truly surprised when I found out he was a gamer.
At first, I assumed that gaming was an occasional activity he did to bond with the youth he served. Perhaps that’s because I never understood the allure of playing electronic games, whether it be on a phone or Nintendo Switch. (I recently played my first Nintendo game with my twelve-year-old nephew and somehow made myself carsick; trying to make a little race car stay on the track while avoiding all kinds of crazy obstacles literally made me feel like I might puke. I wonder if it’s due to my age?) Joshua, however, did not have any issue with playing games for long stretches of time. His problem was quite the opposite. He struggled to make himself stop playing. In some circles, this problem might be labeled an “addiction.”
When Joshua and I talked about his gaming habit, he explained that when he got married, he began to recognize that playing games was problematic. “As a married man, gaming was a big problem because it robbed me of quality time with my wife. I would be in the same room as her but, at times, totally disconnected from her because of the games I was playing. The games made me feel shame and regret because I realized its effect on my life, but I felt helpless to change. I tried to fix the problem on several different occasions. I remember deleting games, yet I wouldn’t last more than a week before redownloading them because I deeply missed them. Later I decided to do a 40-day fast just from video games to rededicate my heart to God and to tear down this idol. About 30 days into it, I genuinely felt like something was lacking, and I wanted to return to the games. When I didn’t make it the whole 40 days, I realized how bad this problem really was.” As I listened to Joshua, my heart hurt for him. His desire to be set free was sincere: he even utilized spiritual tools such as prayer and fasting to help. Nothing worked…until…God healed his heart.
Before I share how God healed Joshua, we must first understand what was broken. Even Joshua was not aware of the root of his dysfunctional behavior until God showed up. This is often the case with so many of us. We channel our energy into fixing the symptoms—the excess eating or drinking, the angry outbursts, the habit of sulking in the corner, the gaming—but fail to get to the root of what is causing the behavior to start with. In Joshua’s case, his problem stemmed back to his childhood and even beyond. For the sake of time, let’s just go back a few decades for some clues.
Unlike the young boys that Joshua mentors, his own father was always present in his life. Although Joshua’s dad could never show his son love in the way his heart needed, he worked hard to provide for his family and to connect with his children through his own love of sports. Joshua learned to work for his father’s approval by being good at games (sports). As much as he longed to hear, “I love you, son,” from his father’s lips, those words never came. This is not surprising given that Joshua’s dad never received love from his parents—far from it. As a child, he was used as slave labor by them. Since it’s impossible to give away what you haven’t received, it’s easy to understand why Joshua’s father wasn’t able to express love to his son. However, those very understandable shortcomings left Joshua with a hole in his heart that he used gaming to fill.
“The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jer 31:3)
Joshua was unaware of how hidden pain in his heart could relate to his gaming problem. Although he was not unaware of his dad’s shortcomings and had even taken steps to forgive his father, the wound was not fully healed. Forgiveness is critical in our healing journey; it helps prevent resentment and bitterness from taking root in our hearts. However, forgiveness alone does not address the pain of longing to be seen and loved. That is a whole separate issue. One of the best ways to receive healing for that kind of pain is through an encounter with God. This is exactly what happened to Joshua.
During a guided healing session at his church, Joshua had an amazing encounter with God. He explained: “The encounter started off with me being reminded that my wife wanted me to get off the game in the morning to go to church, and I was very defensive over my time with the game. Then, God brought me to a childhood memory where I saw me and my Dad playing catch at a baseball field; Although I was happy and having fun, my dad never said I love you to me. He only knew how to show his love by participating in sports and games with his kids. In the memory, I began to speak to the kid version of myself. I said, “I love you, and if you ever just want to sit down and talk, you can.” I was saying things to my (child) self that I had never heard from my dad. Although I was saying it, it felt like the words came directly from Father God. When I had that revelation, I just started crying and weeping. I recognized that my heart was looking for a father’s love. This began to impact me instantly. I could feel my heart pumping. It was like an area of my heart that was not alive, just came alive. And I could instantly feel tension and weight leaving through my hands. I felt so good.”
In case you’re wondering how this encounter impacted Joshua’s gaming habit, the short answer is, “a lot!” This is what happened: “Since heart healing, I have had such love in my heart that there’s no pull to go back to play games to fill the void. Rather, I am resting. I go to bed and don’t feel like I need to play games. I’m just not feeling that lack anymore. When God met me in that vision and talked to my younger self, it filled my heart with what I needed. Games no longer fill me and control me. It’s no longer an idol that I expect to give me love. I can now enjoy games with family and friends and allow it to be a community activity.” Wow. Just wow.
“…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” (Eph 3:17-18)
As I wrap up this post, I want to remind you of the woman in the Bible who had an issue with bleeding (Mark 5:25-34). She had gone to many doctors to be healed, but instead of getting better, she grew worse. In her desperation, she reached out to touch the cloak of Jesus and was instantly healed. An encounter with Jesus brought healing to this woman and healing to Joshua. I wonder if you’re next?
Engagement: I encourage you to sit for a minute and let Joshua’s testimony sink in. What comes up in you as you let his story wash over you? In what ways can you relate to it? Do you feel hope-filled? Are you jealous? Are you in disbelief? I assure you, there are no wrong answers here. Feelings are not right or wrong; they just are! The important thing to do with your feelings is: 1) notice them and 2) get curious about them. What is going on inside of you right now? Are you in need of a heart-healing? If so, I’d love for you to put a 🙋🏻♀️ in the chat. Alternatively, email me to let me know. If you’re ready for healing, I can help.
*Note: Joshua is not this man’s real name, although he is a real person who I know.