The Zen of Unpacking & How It Gives Us Hope
When was the last time you moved homes? Packed all of your things up and took them to a totally new place and then started unpacking. You unpacked memories, keepsakes, heartbreaks. And odds are, you finished unpacking and said, “I never want to do that again.” But the zen-game Unpacking made me retract that statement - what can we learn from Unpacking the life of someone else? Can taking things out of boxes one at a time help us to learn more about ourselves in the process? And is it really true that everything happens for a reason? Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and this is supposed to be a Gamecube - the device that raised me. You Gen Z-ers that don’t know what this is - you break-a me heart, Alfredo. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deepdives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Romans 8:18-25 NRSV
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Unpacking is a zen puzzle game about the familiar experience of pulling possessions out of boxes and fitting them into a new home. It’s developed by Witch Beam and published by Humble Games.
Part tetris-esque puzzle, part Happy Home Designer, the player is invited to create a satisfying living space while learning clues about the life they are unpacking.
Over the course of eight house moves, the player is given a chance to experience a sense of intimacy with a character that they never get to actually see and a story that they never get told.
It’s a game that earns the title of a story-rich game on Steam even though it doesn’t contain a single line of dialogue, only having 8 short sentences contained in the diary picture you get once you complete the story
This game is a short game - so I really encourage you to take the time and play it for yourself and experience the moving nature of the story, but this video will definitely have some mild spoilers for things you’ll find in the game
The game starts innocently enough with a move to maybe your first childhood home in 1997 - unpacking stuffies and gameboys and all that good stuff.
We then skip forward to your first dorm in 2004 - we bring in a kitchen and some actual adult responsibility - ugh
Our next move is in 2007, which it took me a while to determine was moving into a shared apartment with some girlfriends. This was the first time I couldn’t move things, because they weren’t mine to move - that was a bit of a reality check.
Then we skip to 2010 with our first boyfriend - and he is a piece of work - too cool for school and definitely not on par with our standards. I’m still not okay with him making me put my laptop and wacom tablet under the bed. Hoo - amazed it took 2 years to break up.
Speaking of the break, we actually move back into our childhood room in 2012 after we move out of our ex-boyfriends suite.
We move into our real big girl apartment in 2013 after we finally raise enough cold cash for a downpayment on our place and man is this my favorite chapter or what. We finally have space for all of our things, we have a desk for all of our creative stuff. I remember this feeling in my real life and it’s just the absolute best.
In 2015 we move in our new partner to our own apartment this time and it’s just perfect. Everything matches up perfectly and they are just right for us. It feels nice to find someone that knows you and fits just right.
Finally, we make our last move in 2018 and if you’re anything like me your eyes fill up with tears as you scroll through the available rooms and see a doggone crib in one of them - we end our story happily in love and creating a family.
Whoo - that’s brutal. Talk about a literal whirlwind of a life in like three hours of gameplay. That’s exhausting.
So here’s the thing about this game, aside from the story that we were able to glean from the actual places that we just talked about, we also get a story from the things that we bring with us along the way. The character we’re playing as loves video games, art, action figures and stuffed animals, D&D, cosplay… we get a whole story from the very belongings of this person. And it’s amazing what you can learn about someone from their stuff.
As I journeyed through the life of this person, I couldn’t help but wonder what my stuff was - what moments and highlights would i have had. What hurt? What helped? What stayed? What left? It sends shivers down my spine just thinking about right here and right now.
Being a Pastor’s Kid and moving from house to house, my parent’s divorce, my college apartments, my first home with my wife, my first home with our daughter, literally putting a nursery together right now for our second… it’s enough to rip you apart inside, dude.
So what do we do with that? How can we work with these memories and these feelings that we get from them?
That brings us to the scripture for today - it’s from the book of Romans, which was the Chrisitianity 101 letter that Paul sent to the people of Rome when he wasn’t sure if he would ever make it there personally. He doesn’t have the rapport with these people, so he’s laying the foundational work for ministry to be done.
This whole section of chapter 8 is rather infamous for some misattribution, but the real cruz of the argument presented by Paul is how we should live life once we accept Christ and thus accept the Holy Spirit living and being through us in our baptism
Once we reach that, what do we do next?
This chunk in particular is acknowledging a pretty crucial bit of bad theology - should we expect that bad things stop happening once we accept Jesus? No. Full stop. Bad stuff still happens. End of video.
Not really - while bad stuff happens, something does change when we accept Jesus. The present sufferings - the things we’re dealing with right now - they’re unavoidable, they’re going to happen. We live in a broken world with broken people. That’s just reality.
But that reality doesn’t win out over the truth of what is to come, what is in the future for us as Christians.
This actually kind of sets us up really nicely for this current season of the church that we’re in, did you know the church had seasons? We’re actually in our second week of the season of Advent. Advent is the first season in the new year of the Christian Calendar. Happy new year, I guess?
And Advent essentially means anticipation - or as Tim Curry would say antici - - - - - pation
The season of Advent is this gap of time that we have leading up to Christmas, where we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Yes - there is actually a time between Thanksgiving and Christmas - you heard me. Turn that Christmas music off, heathen.
In all seriousness, Advent is this time of anticipation, but Jesus was already born right? If you know your Biblical narrative of the Gospel, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontious Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried - then risen on the third day. He then ascended up into Heaven and sits at the throne of God. But then there’s this thing: from there he shall return to judge the living and the dead.
So Jesus isn’t done yet - we’re still in that time of anticipation. We’re still in the act of anticipating the Christ who will return.
It’s the now and the not yet - a reflection of the anticipation of the birth of Jesus and a reminder that Jesus will return. Advent is a both/and that focuses on the time of anticipation for a Savior in the form of Jesus Christ
So what does this have to do with Paul and Unpacking?
Well, remember that whole thing about suffering but still knowing that greater glory awaits us?
Well - it does. We see it in both instances.
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the breakup didn’t go well for the main character in Unpacking. I bet that hurt. I bet that really sucked.
And then moving back into your childhood room? Leaving a ton of stuff packed up? That’s really rough. It can feel like a trap. Have you ever felt trapped before? I saw this image online as I was writing this sermon and, like, yeah. It’s incredibly easy to be in this place of unease. To hurt - to not be going anywhere in particular.
For the main character, they have to wait literal years between these changes - but us? Only a few minutes of organization and we get to move forward with our lives in the game. That’s only possible in a game like this or when we reflect on the life we’ve lived so far. But overall that’s what it really is.
Life is just the moments that we hold close and the memories that we take with us and the things we hold onto. Looking back on the past, we may not remember how we felt during those times - but I guarantee when I was suffering through my parent’s divorcing, I wasn’t thinking of my daughter’s smile. But I was going to get that someday.
Do you see how that’s not predetermined or predestination? Everything didn’t happen for a reason, but everything happened and I found my reasons. I don’t thank God for those awful times, I thank God for being with me and bringing me into these times. Into the better times. I thank God that there is a future for me. Each new day is an absolute gift because it has the possibility to be better than the last.
So we press on - knowing the future glory is better than the present suffering. It just is. It doesn’t mean we won’t have bad days. It doesn’t mean all the bad stuff is behind us. But, by the grace of God, I will experience even better things than the giggle fits that my daughter has when I’m being silly.
The word that best describes this feeling of anticipation is also the word that we ponder on during the first week of Advent: hope. The same hope that Paul mentions in the scripture. And the same that the main character in Unpacking needed to keep pressing onward.
Hope for the future. Hope for something better. Hope for something unseen.
That’s one of the key things that Paul points out - hope can’t be in something seen, because then it’s not hope but just obedience with a little patience. Hope is not knowing how we’ll ever into our own apartment and then having our first child six years from then.
Six years ago I was graduating undergrad - so yeah, wow that’s incredibly relatable. Life moves fast, but also incredibly slow. But looking back on it, it’s amazing what was in store for future me, current me, past me’s future me - you get the idea.
So even on the tough days in Undergrad, I had the underlying hope that the future would be holding some incredible things in store and so I kept pressing on.
Not because everything happens for a reason, but because everything happens. And so I need to react in kind and move forward with a hopeful anticipation of better thing in store.
So what does this actually mean for us today?
Well, wherever you are, whatever stage of life you’re in, the truth of the Gospel and the game Unpacking point towards a future that is coming, like it or not. So rather than have a passive reaction, let’s treat life like we treat this season of Advent - with anticipation.
Don’t just sit there and let life happen - experience it. Make the most of it. Shape it, form it, instruct it, make this life yours. Put the Gamecube in the kitchen if you genuinely don’t know what it is. Put that laptop right on top of your boyfriend’s protein powder. Do the things, live life, embrace the future with hope and with anticipation.
And I’d go so far as to invite you to do that with us here at Checkpoint Church - this past year and a half with these people have been some of the most incredible moments and we’d love to have you join those and do some Unpacking with us.
Good or bad, painful or pleasant memories, doesn’t matter what baggage or blessings you bring - we’re here for the you that you are, right here, right now.
And if you really don’t know what a Gamecube is, allow me to welcome you to the greatest console generation of all time.
Thanks - now what?
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Question: How do you typically pack and unpack during a move? Heavily organized or just stuff thrown in haphazardly?
Outro - Clip: