Ain’t It All Just Awful

two puffins playing "ain't it all just awful"

A person overtly expresses distress, but it is covertly gratified at the prospect of the satisfaction they can wring from their misfortune.”
– Dr. Eric Berne,
Games People Play

I’ve always been fascinated by the games we play.

I was ten years old when the Eric Berne classic Games People Play was published. The title intrigued me, and since I helped myself regularly to my parents’ reading material, I dove in.

The gist of his book is that certain patterns of behavior – games, as he calls them – can be spotted wherever there are human relations.

Some of these games are pretty unproductive, so if the people playing them have the integrity to examine what they’re getting out of the game, then both they and their relationships will improve.

Some of the games Berne lists will ring a bell with you, I’m sure. “If It Weren’t For You I Could” and “Let’s You and Him Fight” are two obvious examples. But I think the most popular one is called “Ain’t It Awful?”

Who’s Up For It?

“Ain’t It Awful?” requires two or more players. Their goal is to discuss how awful certain things or people are. (You get more points for discussing people.)

The rules are simple and user friendly. Focus on someone’s weakness, failure, or error (someone not present; penalty points for face to face directness) and milk the subject until all players have achieved sufficient levels of superiority. Extra points are added if the conversation passes for “concern”; bonus points if the gossip passes for a prayer meeting.

Full disclosure: I’ve found pleasure in this, probably because it feels so good focusing on someone else’s sins while minimizing mine.

Don’t Try This At Home

For example, my wife and I talk almost daily about issues, many of them political or social; many of them having to do with the state of the Body of Christ. Sometimes, during these talks, I’ve played the game without her even knowing.

So we might be discussing trends in the Church that we lament, like the lack of disciplined Bible study, or the “endangered species” status of hymns. Other times we’ll discuss things we disagree with, or what we wish people would do more of, or less of.

Then, just when I’m starting to get drunk on how wrong They are and how right I am, Renee blows the whole thing by saying, “OK, so we really need to pray about this.”

Game over. No one plays “Ain’t It Awful” while coming before the throne. The end goal of the game is, after all, to be able to not only say “Ain’t It Awful” but also, having thoroughly dissected someone else’s faults, to look at the soul I’ve just thrashed and say, by comparison, “Ain’t I Great?”

A Tale of Two Extremes

I guess this is on my mind because I’m more and more torn between two huge concerns.

One is the epidemic lack of Biblical discernment we’re seeing today, evidenced in horrendous decisions some denominations and leaders are making, and gross errors promoted by some teachers and pastors who should know better.

The other concern is with the self-righteous obsession some folks seem to have with railing against, publicizing, then harping on, the errs of others.

Now, public admonishment and respectful disagreement is not only valid but, these days, called for. But needless, ongoing chatter about how wrong a brother, group, or church is, without fair recognition of that same brother or group’s virtues (much less prayerful petition to God and loving discussion with the person in error, as Renee likes to remind me) seems more to me like games than godliness.

Thine Own Log, Thine Own Eye

So I’m trying to stop myself before discussing what someone else is doing or saying that bothers me. I’m trying, instead, to first ask myself if it’s something I’ve talked directly to the person about (if possible), something I’m not guilty of myself, and something I can discuss without needlessly damaging the person being discussed, or the person I’m in discussion with.

And, it should go without saying, I cannot express my grief over someone else’s wrong without then praying for the person in question.

Those are rules I’ll try to follow, anyway. Because you and I know there are problems everywhere, big ones warranting lots of concern and, hopefully, lots of corrective action.

But playing “Ain’t It Awful” by endlessly talking (or posting, or commenting) about how bad it is accomplishes nothing. I’d like to try my hand at some new, more challenging games:

Ain’t it Hopeful:

“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Ain’t it Human:

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

Ain’t it Heavenly:

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)

These we can play and, thank God, even the most unathletic among us can win.

This article was written by Joe Dallas and originally published on 07.21.2020 at  See his homepage for more insightful blog posts and to learn more about his ministry.