Five Things I Learned About Life While Frittering It Away
My Dear One,
What do you do when you are bored and have a few minutes to spare? More and more, it seems our answer is to pick up our phone. Even though I have real concerns about that, I will admit that I do it too. If I'm not reading the news or checking email, I like to play solitaire. It’s my go-to when I need a distraction for a few minutes that engages my brain in something fairly mindless. And when I’m alone. And when I’m bored. Ok, I probably play it too much.
Maybe I should have given solitaire up for Lent instead of trying to give up worrying. (It helped me be more aware of my worrying and do so a little less. I still worried.)
But I’ve also found some patterns in the game that perhaps hold some wisdom for the way we live the rest of our lives. And as we enter into Holy Week, I can’t help but feel there’s something here that pertains, even if in a slightly trivial way.
So here are 5 Things I’ve Learned About Life Playing Solitaire:
1. Don’t play to compete, play to complete.
I don’t play solitaire to get the highest score or to finish it in the fastest time. (How do people do it in 25 seconds?) That’s added competition and stress in my life I don’t want or need. I play simply to see if that hand can be completed. I play to solve the puzzle. However much time it takes, it takes. I’m ok with that. I just want to see where it all leads.
2. Admit not every game is winnable.
I don’t like it when it says “There are no more moves available in this game.” But there are some hands that simply do not have a solution. I could sit there replaying that hand over and over again (an option the game on my phone gives me). It wouldn’t matter. There is no way to win. The cards just weren’t dealt right. So rather than beating myself up for not solving the unsolvable, I just ask to be dealt a new hand.
3. Some games are winnable if you’d made a different move.
And yet (here’s the kicker) sometimes hands end that could have been completed if I’d made a different move earlier. What if I’d moved the 10 of clubs to the red Jack instead of the 10 of spades? What if I’d moved the King of hearts to the empty slot instead of the King of clubs? What if I’d left the 5 of diamonds down on the board instead of sent it up to the stack? Each move leads to different possibilities in the next move. Sometimes, when I get the “There are no more moves available in this game” message, I hit the “Go Back” button and see. Sometimes I find where it all went wrong. Sometimes I don’t.
4. But don’t let that drive you nuts.
Life will sometimes let you replay things. And you can always choose to replay them over and over in your head until you die. But you may never know if that hand was winnable or not. Allow yourself to replay the hand only if you are in it to learn something from the past. Do it a time or two if you want but then move on. If you aren’t able to let it go, and you just keep replaying it over and over again, that's not healthy.
5. It’s easier to win playing one card at a time.
There are a lot of options for how to play the game. The main option is to play either Draw 3 or Draw 1. Draw 3 is much harder. It skips two cards and gives you every third card to play. When you flip the deck and start over, you might get a new pattern of three or you might get stuck forever in the same pattern. But if you choose Draw 1, pulling one card at a time, you are much more likely to complete the game.
Is it just me or do you see some parallels here too?
1. Since I’m not interested in more stress in my life, I’d rather just live to see if it can be completed. I don’t really care to compete anymore. Whatever ego-driven need I had when I was younger to win seems to have dissipated over time. It’s still not gone, but it has lessened. If someone else can do it better or faster than me, good for them. I just want to know if it can be done or not. Life is more fun this way.
2. I’ve been dealt hands in life that weren’t winnable and I wasted a lot of time and energy trying to find a solution. It’s not giving up or admitting defeat. It’s recognizing that, as the hand was dealt, the game could only go on so long. There won’t be a satisfying completion. I won’t be a “winner.” It has nothing to do with my intelligence or worth. It simply couldn’t be completed. It will have to be left undone. That’s why in confession we ask forgiveness for the things we have done and the things we have left undone. God understands.
3. It is good to sometimes go back and learn from past mistakes. If we don’t spend time reflecting and replaying, then we will simply repeat that same wrong move in every future hand. I’ve become a better solitaire player for doing this. I hope even more so I’m becoming a better person, a better man, and a better follower of The Way.
4. And yet, sometimes I have to let it go and move on. I can’t beat myself up or drive myself crazy with it. Just ask for a new hand and try again. No shaming or feeling like a failure required. Another name for this is grace.
5. And sometimes I can’t win because I’m playing too many cards at once. I need to slow down, flip over one card at a time, examine all the possibilities, decide where or even if I should play it, and then move on to the next card. This is also called focus and presence.
Jesus is about to ride into Jerusalem on the back of a colt this Sunday. If this had been a competition, he’s about to lose. He knows it. Death draws near. But Jesus wasn’t in it to win it, he was in it to finish it. He was in it to do what he came to do, even if it ended with him hanging on a cross.
Was the game winnable? It depends on what you define as “winning.” If you define winning as defeating the Romans and reclaiming the throne of David for an independent nation-state of Israel (as some of Jesus' followers had hoped), then there was no way to win. There never would be. That wasn’t even the point.
I wonder if Jesus had any doubts or regrets. What if he’d taught his disciples more about non-violence, would that ear have been cut off in the garden? What if he’d spoken more plainly to them about why he would die, would they be so quick to deny even knowing him? Hanging on that cross, abandoned by his friends, surveying the crowd and seeing who was there until the end and who wasn’t, how did Jesus feel knowing “There are no more moves available”?
But even that didn’t break his commitment to Love. He loved his mother, who was right there below him. He loved the criminals hanging next to him. His love was so evident, even the Roman guard who was executing him knew he’d just witnessed the death of a great man. Jesus loved to the end. He didn’t go crazy, even when he felt forsaken by God. Jesus admitted “it is finished” and let go.
Whether he knew about the resurrection before his death or not, it turns out that there was yet more to be revealed. Death was not the final card. God had more in store. How often do we, in all our rushing about and playing multiple cards all over the place, think we’ve reached the end when really we haven’t? How much better could life be if we remained focused on the card that is before us and decided what to do with it before we jump ahead two cards? Stay focused on each step. Trust in God that the next thing to be revealed can also be a sign of grace, hope and new possibility.
The 16th chapter of John’s gospel is a beautiful passage to read and keep in mind for Holy Week. I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on the entirety of it. It speaks powerfully of Jesus’ ability to do what he can and then let go. As an incarnation of The Way, his life is a model for our life as we seek to incarnate The Way as well.
The most powerful verse in that chapter for me has always been verses 12-13:
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
In the end, Jesus said to his disciples, “My work is unfinished. But I am not leaving you alone. The things I would have said that you cannot understand now, will be given to you in due time.” God’s work of speaking into the world has not ended and will never end. Ultimately, this hand we’ve been dealt will find completion. Trust in this good news, especially when you cannot figure it out on your own.
This week I give thanks for all that has happened in my own life:
I give thanks for the times I completed something and felt a sense of accomplishment.
I give thanks for the times I could not find a solution but learned from it anyway.
I give thanks for the times I’ve gone back to learn from my mistakes and find new ways forward.
I give thanks for the times I’ve let go and moved on.
I give thanks that there’s always another card or another hand to be dealt.
And I give thanks to you and everyone in my life who has walked with me in the journey thus far. I ask forgiveness from those who were with me in situations I could not resolve. I give thanks for those who showed me how to solve others hands. I draw strength from our willingness to keep trying again.
As long as we are alive, it is not hopeless. Even when much seems lost, it is not hopeless. Even when we are on the cross looking out and seeing that only a few have remained, it is not hopeless.
Life is full of new possibilities. Know when to embrace them and when to create space for new possibilities to emerge. God is a never-ending source of resurrection and new life.
It almost makes me want to say, “Allel…..!”
following The Way,
Elder of the Week: Alan Watts
A prolific author and speaker, Alan Watts was one of the first to interpret Eastern wisdom for a Western audience. Born outside London in 1915, he discovered the nearby Buddhist Lodge at a young age. After moving to the United States in 1938, Alan became an Episcopal priest for a time, and then relocated to Millbrook, New York, where he wrote his pivotal book The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety. In 1951 he moved to San Francisco where he began teaching Buddhist studies, and in 1956 began his popular radio show, “Way Beyond the West.” By the early sixties, Alan’s radio talks aired nationally and the counterculture movement adopted him as a spiritual spokesperson. He wrote and traveled regularly until his passing in 1973. from https://www.alanwatts.org/life-of-alan-watts/
A talk Watts gave that relates to our topic this week, Relax Your Mind, can be found here
https://youtu.be/rZTFfyUnEnc . Note: I will add that his description of the "Christian mythos" accurately describes the flaws of many traditional understandings of the Christian faith but does not reflect my understanding which is much more inclusive and expansive.
Question of the Week:
What game helps you makes sense of life?
Email me or leave a comment below and let us know.