I recently attended a birthday party for the children of my dear friends, Tim and Pam, at their home. I’ve known Tim and Pam for many years and presided over their wedding.
As the party was winding down, the couple’s 16-year-old daughter Elly asked permission to go out and play Pokémon Go. I had heard about the game and asked Elly to explain how it works. As she spoke, I realized that many of the skills and attitudes required for success at this game were similar to what Jesus taught His disciples about prayer.
First, to play Pokémon Go, you have to download a free app to your smartphone. This connects you to the game’s GPS and camera functions, and creates what is called “augmented reality,” allowing you to roam around and “see” the Pokémon characters in order to “catch” them. As you play, you are looking at the world through your phone’s camera and can see what no one else can, unless they have the app. Similarly, in order to pray, we must “download” the free gift of faith. This enables us to see and experience the presence of a loving God in the world, something those who have not yet accepted this gift cannot do.
Second, playing Pokémon Go requires a playful, childlike attitude. Most of the young people who are playing this game today remember collecting Pokémon cards as kids. Similarly, Jesus taught His disciples that they are to come to God as children and to even call Him “Abba,” which means “Daddy.”
Third, you can search for Pokémon characters anytime and anywhere (there are actually 26 in the Village of Boys Town). Similarly, Jesus taught His disciples they can pray anywhere, not just in the temple or synagogue, and anytime, not just on the Sabbath.
Fourth, there’s no instruction manual for Pokémon Go; you learn how to play it by playing it. As you become more experienced, you figure out how to use certain tools like “lures” and “incense” to draw the Pokémon characters closer to you and how to follow “signs” that lead you to their location. In comparison, Jesus taught His disciples that we all learn to pray by doing it! There are many books on prayer but Jesus’ simple instructions were meant to get us started so we can find our own way to the Father. We can start with memorized prayers like the “Our Father” and then try other styles, like reading Scripture, meditating, listening to sacred music and even witnessing God’s majesty in creation. As we mature in prayer, we learn to read and translate the subtle signs that let us know the Father is present and communicating with us.
Finally, the game of Pokémon is designed to build up a community of players. If you see groups of teenagers gathered in a public place, all looking down at their phones and laughing and talking, they are probably playing Pokémon Go! Together, they share advice about where to find certain Pokémon characters, how best to catch them and how to “train” them to make them stronger. Similarly, Jesus taught His disciples that prayer should bring believers together to form a community we call “the church.” When Christians gather, they share advice on how to live out Jesus’ teachings and train their souls to grow stronger so they can fight collectively against the influence of evil in the world.
So, to all you Pokémon Go players out there searching for your Charmanders, Squirtles, Bulbasaurs and Pikachus, I say, “Good luck catching them all! You gotta play to win!”
Just remember that as Christians, you gotta pray to win. In prayer, instead of you catching Pokémon, it’s God who catches you!