John Ortberg's When the Game is Over it All Goes Back in the Box was one of my better book surprises of 2007. This was the first Ortberg book I'd read, and I feared the worst. The deceptively bland cover made me think that Game might be another predictable self-help book that gets classified as "inspirational" and reads like an overly sensitive soap box preacher. But no. After reading the book, the only criticism I really care to level has to do with the title (too long) and the packaging (too self-helpish).
Ortberg reads like a happier Philip Yancey--very well read, thoughtful, and witty, but without Yancey's lingering skepticism. The self-deprecating, prolonged humor of Game occasionally spiked into laugh-out-loud moments where Lindsay would glance over at me suspiciously--"What's so funny?"--thinking that Aidan and I were sharing a joke at her expense. Nope, it was me and John Ortberg, chuckling about the ironically funny nature of men and women in general.
When the Game is Over was a timely gut-check for me personally, at a time when I was mentally and physically worn out, and badly needing a visionary spark. Ortberg's book served as a more "inspirational," less "theological" Don't Waste Your Life. (Mind the quotation marks there--since all really inspiring writing is also theological. Piper's book is a masterpiece, but Ortberg's volume serves a similar function using a lighter touch.)
There's a wisdom that makes you nod slowly and say Mmmhmm... and a wisdom that makes you laugh out loud and lift your chin higher. We need both, I think, at different times, and Ortberg's book falls in the latter category. When the Game is Over is wise while smiling, and it inspires a happy defiance to life's tedium and my self-centeredness.
One more bit of name-dropping and I'm through: At moments, Ortberg reminded me of G.K. Chesterton, in that he teaches with laughter, a 21st century rebel jester. Ortberg, like Chesterton, is self-deprecating, and uses his own foibles as a point of reference in a way that allows me to admit that i am also that way and only a fool would deny it.