What better way is there to start a Sunday night than with a game of Monopoly? Or so we thought. It’s tradition for one of my friend groups to get together every now and then and endure a rather painful gauntlet together: a Monopoly game that we all know will be at least three hours long. I didn’t grow up playing traditional Monopoly; my Romanian mother would’ve put an end to any whining or rowdy competition with maternal glares and eventually ban it . . . for good reason. But I do enjoy regularly playing it in college. It teaches you worlds about people: their spending habits, how much risk they’re willing to take, if they enjoy bragging rights or not. All very insightful!

But tonight was no regular night. The Den seeped waves of pandemonium, with horrendous lines for Papa John’s, Chick-fil-A, and Esteban’s. My sympathy went out to the workers; no way were they getting paid enough to attend to each line of at least fifty famished youths. Since none of the food suppliers officially opened until seven, we started the game punctually at six to help the last hour go by. We agreed we would take a break for dinner once the time came and began setting up the necessities of Monopoly. Hungry for success (and also food), we were expecting nothing but begrudging hours of fun!

It was peaceful at first. Rather consistent in my unlucky rolls, I bought only two properties while the typical winners racked up seven or eight property purchases in less than twenty minutes. I’m used to consistently being the underdog in games, but the key to Monopoly is knowing which gutsy deals to make and who to pitch them to. I chose my victim and slyly primed him for a deal: my Electric Company card plus $200 for his Baltimore Avenue card. It was then, during the uneasy suspension of negotiations, that the tension began to unfurl.

Men raised voices and women made comments about egos. Selective invectives spewed as we all vied for each other’s attention, attempting to make the most enticing deal out of the group. People felt slighted as others denied them due rent, and it was truly every man for himself. As alliances formed and glares shot across tables, I decided it was time to excuse myself.

I intentionally moseyed, FaceTiming a friend from back home, followed by a grueling discussion about communication with some dear friends. All of this was still occurring, mind you, with hordes of famished customers lined around us all. In the heat of exhaustion and frustration, I made some poor decisions. I didn’t give my FaceTime nearly as much privacy as it deserved, and the talk with friends became emotionally demanding, containing one too many convicting confrontations about maturity. The weight of it all made me want to sprint back to my dorm and duck under my covers. Between the FaceTime, the seriousness of the talk, and the busyness of the Den, I was much less prepared to return to the Monopoly table than I fathomed.

While I was gone, I entrusted all of my property and money to my boyfriend, and he was a phenomenal steward. He even pooled his finances and assets with mine when he himself became bankrupt, saving the both of us. As I returned to the table, I learned only he, another team, and the Alpha Male in our group remained. This “Alpha Male” was our typical Monopoly winner, and we all assumed he would continue his winning streak that night. As I sat down, I detected an overbearing smog of disagreement. One person in particular looked rather wounded and said much less than normal. Once again, I heard frequent comments about cheating and braggadocious boasting while others tried to disarm the hostility. As much as I wanted to contribute to the united pacifist front, at that point my emotional energy tank had hit zero.

The best way to finish the game was to declare that the Alpha Male won by default. We all moved the hotels and dollar bills with relief into their boxed homes. No one was entirely sure what had just happened, but whatever it was, the group still wasn’t at ease. I even joked, asking if we couldn’t play this game again until next semester; our group desperately needed that respite! My joke gained a resounding yes, along with some genuine grimaces. It was time to part ways.

I’m not exactly the best at sorting through my thoughts in public; they’re generally something I need to reflect on alone, often in nature. Conveniently, snow lay on campus in abundance, so I shuffled back to my dorm with pensiveness. How could something as simple as a board game, one phone call, and a ten-minute conversation with some of my best friends leave me with such a heavy heart? This called for a truly special place: the swinging benches. I marched through the snow, specifically aiming for the six- to seven-inch-deep sections. The satisfying crunch of my boots in the snow assuaged the noise of my thoughts. As I approached the benches, I carefully brushed off the pristine white powder layered on them. I put in earbuds and played therapeutic songs, angry songs, confused songs, hopeful songs. While this solace did not provide immediate relief, it did grant granular clarity.

Pride and selfishness are painfully abundant in our day-to-day lives. They are noisy house guests; they cannot invite themselves into our days without making themselves known to others. I saw startling evidence of that tonight, from both myself and others. People that love each other are also bound to inflict pain on each other, as the ability to love and the ability to wound coexist in one maddening dance in our hearts. People also sometimes painfully and wrongfully deliver what is the truth, but this does not make it any less needed or correct in the end. The delivery often has more to do with how their hearts long to be nurtured and held by the Savior at that particular moment than with you, although room should be left to give ourselves responsibility for where we need to be challenged. People that would give their lives for you sometimes handle your personal matters with astounding, careless nonchalance. Yet, we are to forgive.

I wanted to fall to my knees in the snow as the relevancy of these realizations swept over me. These truths resonated with such conflict and peace in my core. I struggled to grant forgiveness and understanding for uncommunicated expectations I had set. Yet, I was the greatest transgressor. I was scarring the hopes and joys of my dearest friends. We poured regret in a chalice tonight and passed it around the table for all to have, and we continue, day after day, to do the same.

That is the glory of grace. He, Jesus, meets us in the wilderness of our own foolishness and inability and encourages us to love harder, to encourage better, and to attend more compassionately the next day. In that case, I will continue to be faithful, and the most practical way I could practice this faithfulness was by remaining gracious with my motley Monopoly crew and myself.