If you saw the 1983 movie “WarGames,” you’ll remember the moment the young hacker David Lightman cracks a Pentagon computer called the War Operation Plan Response (WOPR).
The electronic-voiced computer asks Lightman, “Shall we play a game?”
But the computer doesn’t mean Pac-Man. If engaged, this game won’t give you extra lives or bonus points. This game can start a real-life nuclear war.
Self-destruct scenarios aren’t limited to the movies. For instance, consider the consequences of engaging in what I call the shoulda-woulda-coulda game.
If you’re human, you’ll recognize this game well.
Play begins when we slap our forehead and exclaim, “I shoulda-woulda-coulda done this or that.″ It’s often expressed like, “I shoulda married someone else” or “I coulda been a contender.” Or maybe you think about how rich you woulda been if you’d bought stock in Apple when it became public.
I found myself in the throes of the game this past month as my wife and I shopped for a California home. We were quivering with sticker-shock as we discovered prices on the rise since we began our homeless adventures three years ago.
In 2015, we sold our McMansion and shrunk-fit our lives into a mobile home. We took four-day weekends roaming the Western states in a newly purchased motor home.
In the third year, we sold our furniture and stuffed our sentimentals in a storage unit. We flew to NYC and Iceland for a few weeks before taking an apartment in Brussels. Four months later we came home on a cruise and then took off for Central America for another three months.
We had a life-changing time. No regrets. (See www.burkesbums.com)
OK, maybe a few. Although we invested our home equity and did well, we didn’t make nearly enough to match the dizzying rise of California home prices.
Now it’s time to pay the piper. Our money will only buy a bit more than half the home we sold. Ouch!
Given that discrepancy in funds, I’ve found myself saying, “We shoulda leased our home instead of selling.” I’ve been whining how we “coulda bought a much nicer home if we woulda waited to sell.”
Oh, my. Poor, sad Norris. How do I get myself out of this shoulda-woulda-coulda tailspin of self-pity?
Becky and I hit the time-out button to do three things: pause, pray, and promise.
We paused to ask ourselves some questions. Do we really need a lakeside home with two cars and a golf cart? Could we buy a modest home and still find meaningful social connections in churches and service organizations? Or would we allow a fashionable home to dictate our self-image?
Honestly, how much does one need to possess before one can claim, “I’m good enough” or “I’ve made it”? Must we collect more and more to feel that we are worthy?
After some reflection on these questions, we positioned ourselves on a bench beside the lake to pray. Our prayers brought to mind how spiritually full our lives are now. Our blessings overflow, not just in terms of housing, but in health, family and faith.
Finally, we made a promise to one another. We pledged to call each other out when one of us starts playing the shoulda-woulda-coulda game. When I say we shoulda leased our house, Becky stops me and grips my face in her hands. No, not going there.
When she says we coulda traveled some more, I touch her hand and shake my head. No going there. The shoulda-woulda-coulda game has to stop here.
As you read this, we’ve bought a house a half mile from the lake and I’m unpacking our storage unit. It’s fun to find my favorite chair, bicycles and some artwork.
But more important than furniture and mementos, we’ve managed to keep a sense of ourselves. We’ve kept our adventurous spirit, our consciousness of togetherness and an understanding of what is essential in life.
These are the same essentials identified in the sacred writing of Proverbs 24:3-4: “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”
Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain. Leave recorded comments at 843-608-9715. Visit my website at www.thechaplain.net where you can download a free chapter from my new book, “Thriving Beyond Surviving.”