A big ol’ box of air

I’m big into board games.

If you know me, this is no surprise. Even if you don’t know me, it’s probably not much of a surprise. I’ve already shoehorned it into at least one Sabbath Thought, and this probably won’t be the last time, either.

A good board game gives you opportunities to feel clever, to do something absurd and see if it works, or just experience some friendly competition with the people you enjoy spending time with. It’s one of my favorite ways to spend time with friends.

Here’s something I don’t love about board games:

The dead space.

Ultimately, it’s the solution to a marketing problem. A great game doesn’t become a successful game unless people buy the game, right? And because people do judge books by their covers—along with everything else they buy—it helps to make things as eye-catching as possible.

You’re going to notice a bigger box before you notice a smaller one. If they’re both the same price, a bigger box seems like a better deal than a smaller box. So what do a lot of companies do? They put their relatively small games into boxes that are comically large for what’s inside, and that helps them stand out on shelves. Or, worse, they over-complicate a perfectly fine game with all sorts of extra pieces in order to justify a box of horrific proportions, knowing that some people will associate the dimensions of the box with the quality of the game.

There are a lot of lessons in that, I think. Taking stock of the things we think are important and asking why they’re important. Is taking up more space always the goal? More square footage, more cars, more income, more things. It’s easy to chase after bigger numbers without ever asking why the numbers matter or which ones are worth stopping at.

But what these big ol’ boxes of air really get me thinking about is the Pharisees. How many times did Jesus take them to task for focusing on outward appearances and neglecting what was inside? He called them whitewashed tombs full of “dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27)—cups and dishes that were outwardly spotless “but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).

But it’s not that lesson exactly. The Pharisees were hiding their wickedness and corruption with a spotless exterior. But there are some really good games in boxes that are simply too big for what’s inside, all because some market research somewhere said that taking up extra space was the best way to go.

Some of my favorite games come in boxes that fit in the palm of my hand. Some come in boxes that could have been half the size without sacrificing anything inside. And some are sprawling monstrosities that need every square inch of space between the lids.

Do we ever feel the need to look bigger than we are?

A big box on a shelf looks more valuable, more important, more impressive. It sends the message that it has more to offer, and some people believe it. But people who have been playing games for a while know that the small boxes sometimes have even more to offer—and you’re less likely to open them up and think, “Huh. That’s all?”

People judge things by their covers. But people’s judgment isn’t what matters. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Whatever shelf you sit on in God’s Church, the size of your box doesn’t determine what you bring to the table. Filling yourself up with a bunch of dead space just to look better—or making things more complicated all for the sake of looking more impressive—these are temptations that ultimately waste everyone’s time.

A small game in a small box can have a lot to offer. People who spend time with games will pick a well-honed small box over a big ol’ box of air. And God will pick people who spend their time doing what matters instead of trying to look impressive to other people.

Packaging only fools the people who don’t know what’s on the inside.

God knows what’s on the inside.

Better to be a game worth playing than a box worth looking at.

Until next time,

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