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Nerd Dad Series: Part 2

I hope that you enjoyed last week’s episode! This week is a continuation of that, and we’ll be discussing the concept of being a “nerd” in the context of Christianity, particularly for fathers. To review, a “nerd” is anyone with a niche passion, which can be in the analog or digital world. While technology can be a tool for expressing your passion, it can also distract from the reality of God’s presence if you let it. Prioritize balance, keeping your identity fully focused on the Lord. Let’s dig in.

Show Notes:

Psalm 127: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

Psalm 23: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

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Hello everyone and welcome to the Gospel Tech Podcast. My name is Nathan Sutherland and this podcast is dedicated to helping families love God and use tech. I hope that you enjoyed last week’s episode. This is a continuation of that. The conversation is massive and so I could go on for a long time, but instead what we’re doing is we talked last time about this idea that there are nerds. It’s anyone who has a niche passion. You can do that in an analog world or in a digital world. And then started to kind of tease out a little bit of this idea that there is an important difference because in an analog space, you’re being reminded all the time that nature is all around you and that you’re not the biggest thing here. And digital space, oftentimes technology is designed to do what we tell it to do. Yes, you have to know how to interact with it, but it’s kind of like a modern day mage. Like if I have the right words and I know the right techniques, then this thing does everything I tell it to do.

That is awesome in many ways and it can be complicated when it comes to how we interact as Christians, as followers of Christ and where we get our identity and purpose from. So that’s the purpose of today’s conversation. Part two, for nerd dads raising kids in a tech world is we know now that we’re nerds, but what do we do with that and how do we interact with God in that way? And that’s really my hope for today. Threefold. I want us to come away at the end of this conversation just today, today’s conversation to be one that our nerdness is awesome, that God put it there and that we can celebrate that.

Two, that God is better. So we don’t find our identity in our nerdness. We use our nerdness to celebrate God and we give up anything that draws us away from Him.

And third is that we can trust Him. We can trust Him even with the things we’re passionate about, even with our deepest interests, knowing that He might even extend us new interests and passions that this current interest is getting in the way of, in the case of my passion, for video games. I’ve lost nothing by giving it up. Instead I’ve only gained, and that’ll be some of the conversation. If you’re a spouse of a gamer, if you are a family member of a gamer, if you’re just coworker, relation, or have no idea why people would be considered nerds and you just want to be here, thanks for joining us. I do hope that this elucidates that conversation and really opens it up to recognize that we all are nerdy about something, but that’s part of how God has made us, and that it can be a wonderful gift. So let’s use it well, let’s not squander this opportunity to revel in the Lord and to glorify Him through the passions of the gifts He’s given us. So with no further ado, let’s get this conversation started.

And then there’s a digital side. There absolutely could be video games. It absolutely can be fantastical science fiction lore and shows and games. It can be any number of fun, digital or more what we call classically nerdy outlets. And yet one is not better than the other, but we have to recognize them. I think the digital space ones specifically or … I don’t know that digital is even the right way to say that. The fantastical spaces that we go to for nerdom, the Tolkienian escapism can be the one that’s easier to run away and stay away and justify our absence because we don’t see the reality that punches us in the face. You go hunting at some point, you get hungry enough or cold enough that you’ve got to make a change. It’s just going to happen. But both can be misused if they’re not guided and directed by God’s love and purpose.

So I’m here to basically say, nerds, you have a calling. I do not need you to be less nerdy. In fact, I need you to be more nerdy. The C.S Lewis statement, that, “It’s not our over imagination or our increase of drive that our appetites that are too great for God, it’s that we have too little appetite.” That we do not desire enough from this life, that we settle for too little, that if we saw what God was capable of, if we knew the wonder that He could create, we would never settle for some shadow for some joke of satisfaction that’s given to us by a lie that we then set our purpose on. Instead, we need to hunger more. We need more desire and not the [inaudible 00:04:10] version of like so bootstrap it, don’t let yourself down and mind over matter.

Instead we go, all right, there is a God who loves me. He has a great purpose for me. He’s wired for me to be amazed in these ways. So let’s enjoy it to the max and let’s look for where he is directing that. So that brings us to the who’s this for? I’ve already mentioned dads, I’ve already mentioned nerds. We’ve got that, but I want to break it down a little bit more specifically. We’re in the, I called it digital before, but it’s not all digital. It’s the nerd with the fantastical escape Tolkienian direction. So if we have the analog group, I’ll just break them into analog and digital. Bear with me on that. I know that’s not perfect. I’ll think of it in future weeks, but we’ve got the people who do the real world stuff and are constantly being reminded of their own frailty and mortality. Awesome. On our end with the more stay with the tense Jacob side, our spaces, what we need to recognize is that there’s a wide range of health in that.

So I want to speak to dads specifically or single men, and I want to talk to you about, I guess really what I see happening on all scales. I have a young man, sure, in mind who’s a professional in his medical career. He leads an organization and does a great job, but his happy place is painting miniatures and playing board games. That’s his jam and he does it sometimes with the kids, sometimes by himself, but that is someplace he finds a lot of peace and a lot of focus. So I’m speaking to those people.

I’m speaking to another guy who also in the medical field is driven, is motivated, is hardworking in his early 30s, took his family across the United States to a new location. They didn’t have any family out there because he needed a fellowship for his career and is dedicated to it but is passionate about two things in life other than clearly his faith, but that motivate his faith. Philosophy and DC Comics, to the point where I did a school assembly and I borrowed a full body Batman costume and I mean if you’ve seen Parks and Recreation, like full body, molded face mask like Batman costume. That’s this individual. That is the level of nerd I’m addressing.

I’m talking about a third guy, was married, passionate about video games, big into it, loved his wife, made anniversary plans and then didn’t follow through. Had the reservations, decided to stay on the video games the night of his anniversary a little bit longer, a little bit longer, missed dinner all together. They never went and they didn’t stay married much longer. I’m speaking to that individual either before it happens or once it’s already happened.

And then I would say for the fourth dad, the married individual who has that nerdy outlet and specifically the digital fantastical side, whether it be board games or painting or story writing or video games specifically, I’m not specific on that. But that that’s something that’s like your outlet. You get through life and man, I need my space to recharge and this is your thing to recharge on, but you also have a family and so let’s use the video game example. One comes to mind of, all right, this guy has a wife and kid, loves them, has a job he really enjoys, gets home from work and is like, “All right, I need some space. I’m spent my job took what I’ve got and video games are how I recharge.”

But kids are done with screen time or the game isn’t appropriate for the kids at this age. So now he’s forced into a choice. Do I recharge or do I spend time with my family? And after the kids go to bed, well then that’s time with the spouse and once the spouse goes to bed, well that’s my time to get ready for tomorrow. I only got seven and a half hours if I do this right, and if I game for an hour and a half, so now I’m working on six and I’m definitely not going to bed right away after playing games right before trying to sleep. So now I’m talking five, five and a half. That’s not great. That’s not sustainable. Something is going to fall off the table there. So then what do we do with that dad who’s trying to process these very real, I play appropriate games, I’m doing this right, I’m making the good choices and I’m being forced to pick between my kids, my wife or my games that are important for my journey as a way of recovery?

And I want to stop there because our answer so often is just, “Well, just don’t. You’re an adult, get over it. You’re not a nerd, you’re an adult and you need to quit acting like a small child because when you became a man, you started thinking like a man and a man means you kill animals and you gut them and you grow a beard.” That’s sometimes what we hear. There are plenty of authors by the way, way and motivational speakers and people with more muscles in their abs than I’ve got in my entire body. They will tell you those things and I think they have a good point in a lot of ways. There’s a lot that we can accomplish that we don’t think we can accomplish because frankly it’s hard to try. It’s what I like to call type two fun. It’s the kind of fun you got to work at. I get that, but you can’t find your purpose there and you can’t tell yourself that if you just fixed what you liked, then you’d be better. I would tell you this.

First, we’re talking to nerds, people who have that niche specialty, and I would argue we all do unless we’ve gone through something traumatic and we’ve shelled off the world. But when we are living as God’s called us to as vulnerable people, you’re going to be passionate about something, you’re going to want to bring people along. I’m speaking specifically to dads who have a niche that they’re passionate about and that they get energy and life from. They go to this thing and they come away from it more alive, more ready to give, more ready to serve. It might be digital specific video game. It might just be fantastical and surreal. I guess, way to say that. It doesn’t exist in this reality, but it explains some of this reality and some of the reality to come.

So fiction, science fiction, writing, artwork, storytelling, video games, music, all that stuff could fit into this. But it does have a propensity to draw us away and as I was talking about those husbands, there’s a whole span and spectrum of the type of individual who will be this, and the type of individual who can do this healthfully and what that would look like. So I guess what you need to know to wrap up this conversation, what do we need to know about this nerd conversation? I would say three things.

The first is that this … You are correct in recognizing how awesome your area of specialty is. It is amazing. So if I were to speak to my past in this nerd world, video games were a huge thing for me. Started playing when I was eight with Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt on the exact same cassette. My dad brought home a Nintendo Entertainment System and it blew my mind. I loved it. It was a lot of fun. My parents set good boundaries. “You can’t play on weeknights. You can only play when your work is done.” So I played weekends and I on an average week would never cross more than probably six hours of play, maybe three on Friday night and another three on Saturday and Sunday’s a school night, they get you on that one, so that’d probably be it. But it very much defined my childhood and my growing years.

Certainly I did outdoor things. I was in plays and musicals and I was in sports and I did all the clubs and had friends and that was all there. But the older I got, the more I realized, man, nothing quite matches a video game when you just want to feel good. When you’re frustrated, it feels good. When you’re having the best day ever, still feels good. When you’re on Christmas break, feels good. When it’s 2:00 AM on the night of finals week, still feels good. It’s just good all the time. I couldn’t find a bad situation for a video game until I started realizing, “Oh, but I’m getting through everything else because nothing quite stacks up.” So that’s a problem and the Lord convicted me that I needed to step away from video games. That’s not the point of this conversation.

The conversation is I’m still a nerd. Anna, actually would say that she was misled in just how nerdy I was because the older I got, again, I think I do get more and more nerdy. I find more and more beauty in these specific niches. But what we are … I’ve used that word a lot by the way, niches. It’s just fun to say. And these really specific personal experiences on amazement that I want other people to have. So board games are now some of that for me and I’ve got other ways. The idea then is it’s real what you are experiencing. That wonder and amazement that you experience in your specific area of nerdom, that’s real and it is good. And God is still better. When I gave up video games, the point of that conversation wasn’t, well, Nathan loves God more than he loves video games, so you should too, and just never play them again.

The point was I had a real conversation with God after staying up way too late one night, I was in my late 20s, I was married to Anna at the time, we lived in this house. I had a career as a teacher, Anna was a career teacher, I had a master’s degree for education. The outside world would say I was doing all right and yet I knew, “Why am I so dissatisfied? What is going on inside my heart?” And the premise was, all of this life is getting in the way of what I actually want to be doing. When people said, “Hey, you’ve got a week left to live, what would you …” I know the right answer is sing worship songs, tell people about Jesus, spend time with my family. At that point in time, my real answer would’ve been Mountain Dew and video games. That would’ve been my right answer. It’s not my right answer. That’s not the real answer anymore.

That would’ve been my real answer back then and that bothered me. I thought of that. I was like, that’s sad. What am I supposed to do? I thought at the time the answer was actually become less of a nerd. I actually found it was the opposite. I needed to become more of one and that I was actually inhibiting my growth in nerdom. I was inhibiting my amazement by limiting to just this area that made me feel so good and I was actually becoming less of a nerd and more of just a straight-up hedonist. I just wanted to feel good no matter what it took me to feel good. And that pivot was what I needed to look at because at the end of the day, yes, your nerdom is real. The second thing we need to know though is that God is way better.

There’s the parable of a man who finds treasure in a field, and he sells everything he has, buys the field, and we go, man, that guy loves God. He gave up everything he had to buy this field. That’s the point of Jesus’s parable, except it’s not. The point is the man gave up nothing. When we talk about your nerdom is awesome and God is better, that’s real. I’m saying that there’s nothing you can give up in your life that is bringing sin. Nothing you can give up in your life, if it brings sin to you that you would give that thing up and end up worse off.

Because I gave up video games in my case, something that was bringing death to my relationships, bringing death to my career goals of being a excellent teacher, my ability to serve and love God because I’m always so tired and I’m always getting through the people he puts in my life to get back to this thing that makes me feel good. And I had to feel good to be okay, and if I wasn’t feeling good, then I wasn’t okay. If I wasn’t okay, there was no way I was doing what God asked me to do because I was mad about not being okay.

So God took that from me very lovingly and gave me back a bunch of needy people and a bunch of opportunities to serve and love them. And it turns out that that brought more life. I gave up all my old you stuff and I got a treasure filled field that I was able to now spend on loving my wife better and now raising my kids and being present and recognizing my personal limits. And turns out I got a ministry out of the thing. I started serving at Young Life, which led me to start a nonprofit which led me to quit teaching, which led me to having this conversation because 12 years ago the Lord asked me, “Do you trust me even with your joy in your video games, Nathan?” And I frankly didn’t at the time, not completely. I didn’t say, “Yeah, of course, Lord, I know this is going to end up great.” And I’m not asking you to either.

I’m simply asking you to ask the question, what is the Lord giving you that you’re passionate about, and do you believe that he’s better even than that? That that thing is just something that helps you enjoy that part of God that he’s put in you. That part of God that he’s displaying through this thing in you. I want to be careful on how I say that.

And then third and finally is that we can trust him. God put this thing in you. It’s a good thing, your nerdom, that He’s better than that and that we can trust him. I had the opportunity to listen to a guy named Henry Flowers III out in Tacoma, Washington, did an awesome presentation on a lot of things, but basically learning how to pursue God in a digital age when convenience is so easy. And he very quickly got to the point of, “Hey, it’s not about just so wake up earlier and do more Bible studies because then God will be impressed with you.” And he used the example of Martin Luther saying, “I was so busy I had to pray three hours today.” And he said, “Sometimes that’s misused to show like, oh, see Martin Luther loved God. Why don’t you pray three hours in the morning?” And he was like, “That’s not the point. This is not the words of a strong man.” Mr. Flowers went on to say, “This isn’t the words of a strong man. This is the words of a weak man.”

A strong man would get up and be like, “I don’t need God today. I got stuff to do. I’m going to go get it done.” A weak man goes, “I can’t do any of this, so three hours is the best time I can do if it lets me get something done.” And I loved that point and it’s just stuck with me the last three weeks. As I think about this conversation, the point of this is not so get out there and go make something of yourself so that God has something to use. It’s recognize that God’s calling you and he can use you exactly as you are, exactly where you’re at, and your job is going to be to submit to his will, not yours. Sometimes that means you’re going to be praying more than you’ve ever prayed before, even though it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anything done.

And the two verses that kind of extend from that idea is Psalm 127, 1 through 2. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builder’s labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain, you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he grants sleep to those he loves.” This is not an excuse for us to go see, “God will just get it done. I don’t have to do anything. I can do what I want.” No, no. It’s saying the toil and the work needs to be directed by God. Don’t think you can hashtag grindnation out there and just work a little harder and do a little better and get whatever that goal is you’ve set for yourself and now you matter and that God has to bless you.

Instead, recognize that all of our hard work comes with all the beauty and the rest that God has called us to have as well. He established a sabbath. We need to take that serious. Sabbath is not a day to game our brains out. It’s not a day to escape our family. It’s not a day to pretend like the world doesn’t exist. It’s a day to recognize that it does and that’s good. If the world wasn’t good, God wouldn’t let it stay. But there is good here. There is a purpose and a design that God has that he is going to restore. He’s going to make all things new, including the Heavens and the Earth, and he’s going to come and rule and reign here as the Good King and Good Shepherd.

We need to celebrate that and recognize that He’s the one establishing the house that we’re called to be a part of building. He’s the one establishing the church by His grace and His call, and we are called in the middle of it. He’s going to be big enough to work in it. He’s going to use your passions and your weaknesses, but you’re not to just simply sit back and accept it. You are to be doing the work as the Lord leads you.

Which brings us then to the second, which is, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He guides me along paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” I love this because the Lord is my shepherd. We don’t have any lack. He is good. We can trust Him. He makes me lie down and leads me beside quiet waters. These are not the words of a man who is out there proving his worth in the Kingdom of God. When we talk about nerdom, dads, we are talking about servant leading our kids like Jesus led his disciples in John 13, washed their feet and said, “Go do so to others too.” That’s your wife, that’s your kids. That’s your number one goal. If you can do that in your nerdom, do it. If you can’t, your nerdom is the thing that needs to get realigned, not your kids and wife. We are looking to God for our purpose as nerds saying, “God, you gave me this passion about this thing. What am I supposed to do with it with?”

“The video games?” He goes, “Give it up. Toss it. It needs to go. That’s not something you can hold onto and it’s not worth holding onto.” I’ve been given, by the way, just for encouragement, for those of you who might be feeling conviction that your nerdom might be taking you away from God’s call, even though it’s a passion He’s given you. My nerdom specifically in the area of niche games and adventure and heroes and struggle and conflict, all those cool things I get really passionate about. I’ve been given board games as one option, which is super fun. They certainly don’t have the same amount of stimulation. I will not say that they reach the same 10 out of 10 as a great video game, but that’s kind of the point. There’s a bunch of things that could get me to a 10 out of 10 that I don’t want to ingest in my heart, mind or body.

And then the second thing is I got a pretty cool hobby that I’ve gained out of it, in addition to that, which is cycling. I loathe running. Running for me is like a punishment. It’s what we did in football and wrestling when we didn’t do well enough. Running, I never got like, “Oh, runner’s high, yeah.” Not a thing for me, but I love cycling. Cycling is super fun. I’m not great at it. I enjoy it though. It’s really, really fun. I like learning about it. I like meeting people where they’re nerds in cycling. I’ve got a group around here. I just call them The Mustaches because they all have mustaches and I can’t grow one, and I’m kind of jealous. This is the group, if you were listening a couple of months ago, that dropped me on a big ride. They’re really nice. They came back for me, but I got dropped hard. Both legs cramped up. That’s when I say I’m not that great. That’s what I’m talking about. But they’re passionate.

If you want to talk about altitude training, or climatization, or nutrition on the bike or just how to grow an epic mustache, these people are going to talk to you about it. And so sorry, I got distracted by cycling. The idea is God isn’t just going to take away things you love to take them away. He’s going to celebrate this nerdiness he’s put into you. And in me, cycling absolutely does that. It gives me enough that my little ADD brain has something to think about all the time. And you’re moving fast enough that you get places. I don’t run three miles in my hour, which is roughly what it would probably take me because I’m a super slow runner. I can go 15 to 20. I can cover some serious ground in an hour of riding. So that is a blessing that I never would’ve put the time into if I had video games to lean on for my adventure.

I’m telling you that because as we wrap up this conversation, the Lord has to establish the work, the work with discipling our kids, the work with loving our spouse, the work with serving our neighbors, the work with loving our enemies, the work with loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The Lord has to establish that. Yes, it’s an act of grace and ongoing grace and sanctification, and the Lord is driving it. And our decision in that matters, we are being called to cut it off and gouge it out, to trust Him in that and recognize that rest is a thing he’s planned for us. He wants us to rest. He gives sleep to those He loves.

Please do not give up your sleep to pursue your adventure, to pursue your nerdom the Lord’s given you as a gift that can help you lead your family, that can help you be passionate about this world and see into the next. Please don’t lose that and make sure that’s not the thing you’re living for. It’s the thing that points you to the one you should be living for, your God who loves you and is calling you. So husbands, I hope you feel encouraged. Wives, if you listened this far, I hope this rings a bell and you’re like, “Yeah, I know a nerd.” Or “I am a nerd.” That’s awesome. I am specifically speaking to husbands because I really think … I’m already half overstepping in having this nerd conversation like the Jacob Esau thing. I could feel that that was a little rough. I don’t have another way to explain it yet. I think it’d get even worse if I spread the net.

So I’m speaking specifically to dads. This is a conversation I have a lot, both from dads and from wives that come up to me after talks and they’re like, “Hey, do you address technology, nerds, gaming, fantasy? Do you do it?” And my answer’s always been no. This is where the conversation pivots. Let’s do it. Let’s have this. And let’s make sure we remember these three things.

First and foremost, that being a nerd is amazing. That’s how God made you.

Second is that God is better than your best nerdom. And in fact, your nerdom should celebrate that and should point us back to Him.

And third is that we can trust Him. We can trust Him even with giving us joy inside our nerdom or giving up something that we are passionate about because we know that God is better and that He will come through on that as He helps us love our wives, serve our kids, and be present in our communities as He’s placed us there to be ambassadors for Him.

So I hope this was encouraging. I hope it sprouted some conversation points. If you’ve got any questions, you can send them by email [email protected] or direct message them, Instagram and Facebook at Love God Use Tech. You can send them to me directly, [email protected], and I hope you’ll share this with a friend, you’ll have a conversation, you’ll pencil down some ideas on what the Lord’s doing in your heart, and then you’ll join us next week as we continue this conversation about how we can love God and use tech.

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