It’s Sunday evening in the Newcomb household, and that means one thing: game night. It’s become a family tradition that we all eagerly await at the end of a lazy, post-church afternoon. We take turns choosing what to have for dinner and then we rotate through a game selection for each of us. Not only does the event give us wholesome family fun, but it also shows us how to build each other up in ways we don’t anticipate during the ordinary times of the week. By setting the time apart for fellowship and play, we see our family unit and each of its members in a new light.
My children, ages six and four, invariably choose pepperoni pizza for their meals. The excitement builds throughout the week for them as I let them select the frozen pizza at the grocery store, place it in the cart, and pack it in the freezer at home. For the rest of the week, it’s like they know it’s there waiting for them, just like game night. It’s not a Sabbath, of course, but it’s conceptually similar, and it follows the church tradition of marking time throughout the day, week, season, and year. The way we number the hours of our days demonstrates what we hold sacred, and we hope that these regular installments of game night illustrate our family values of teamwork, togetherness, and joy. These values are central not only to our nuclear family, but also to the body of the church and the communities where we serve as God’s hands and feet.
My husband and I have encouraged our girls to discuss their game selections so that we don’t end up with double rounds of hide-and-go-seek every Sunday night. Sometimes, this strategy even works. We’ve never even attempted the strategy with their food selection; we just accept pizza will be at half of all game night dinners.
Regular installments of game night illustrate our family values of teamwork, togetherness, and joy.When we do play hide-and-go-seek, we usually work in teams. The pairs shift so that different combinations work together, revealing different solutions depending on the team. My younger daughter will hide quietly in the “scary” basement closet if I’m with her, but she won’t if she’s paired with her big sister. If it’s the girls against the grownups, they squeeze into spaces that would be comical for my husband and me. And these logistics, too, reflect on our gifts and our fellowship. We see and highlight each other in different ways; we can inspire each other with bravery and cleverness.
At other times, the kids choose more conventional board games. We play Clue Junior, My Little Pony Memory, Yahtzee, Connect Four, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Memory. Most of these require an adult-child pair, and they showcase our expertise in unique ways. My husband gets schooled every time for not knowing the names of all the ponies, while I am embarrassingly bad at games requiring spatial awareness. Games like these flip our typical family hierarchy and give the kids a chance to lead with authority. That’s not appropriate much of the time, but it’s also a necessary lesson for growing up in faith. They get to choose and direct and share their knowledge while we listen respectfully. It’s good practice for a family as well as a church to recognize that not one of us knows everything all the time.
Sometimes we play games cooperatively, and sometimes we play competitively, and sometimes my 4-year-old insists we just build random stuff with Dominoes. Each of the games in our stash serves as a kind of memory-marker for our life as a family. There was the Rudolph-obsession phase they each went through separately. There was my elder daughter’s determination to learn how to take great notes while playing Clue. I still see no end in sight to the ponies, but once in a while we build them stalls out of dominoes and give them paintbrush-broomsticks so they can play Quidditch. My husband and I bring our own memories of games from our childhoods and families of origin. We look forward to each Sunday evening, but every game night is a kind of looking backward too. It helps us remember. Like the rituals of the church, our familial liturgy reminds us who we are and where we’ve come from and what we value, not to mention who we want to become.
I don’t know how long we’ll keep game nights going, or how they might change in our family’s future. I love the way they provide a touchstone these days for our commitment to play together. Granted, my kids are little enough that we play together a lot anyway. My husband and I like to imagine a future where they join us for Settlers of Catan, because it feels impossible when you have little kids to find another couple to play. But for now, through game nights, we build our family relationships and set aside specific time to prioritize these connections. I can only imagine how much more important that kind of relationship building will be as our children grow. These simple game nights serve as a touchstone, similar to the ones we return to in growing our relationship with God. We repeat the same stories and songs and services each year in the church, and they change as we move from childhood to adulthood because we change.
There’s beauty in the simplicity of childhood games and there’s beauty in the complexity of adult strategizing, and the two need not exist in separate spheres. Indeed, game night reminds me that it’s OK to have fun and make pepperoni pizza once in a while, and that I’m not too dignified to hide myself in a giant pile of stuffed animals or a basket of dirty laundry.
It’s the same reason why explaining a religious concept to my children always requires me to see it from a new light, and why their insights so often inspire my own faith. Our game nights as good clean fun (in spite of my inevitable laundry pile) formalize our observance of childlike play and make intergenerational interactions meaningful in a world (and church) too often age-segregated. We can take the blessings of game nights—where every member is cherished and our time together is set apart as special—and carry it into our life in the church and in the world.