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So close, and yet…

February 26, 2022

Ten, Jack, Queen, King,– all of spades. Right there in front of you, in your hand. And a nine of hearts.

There used to be a comic strip that would run on Sundays, years ago. It was entitled “The Born Loser.” Located on its logo were five cards, held as a poker hand. It was the 10, Jack, Queen, King of spades, as well as the nine of hearts. And if you know anything about poker at all, you realize that receiving that in your hand would have to be one of the more painful moments in a game.

So close, and yet so far.

And you might think, if you had those cards in your hand, if only I had the ace instead of this stupid nine. Or maybe you had had some different cards, and you would exchange them and maybe one of them had been the ace, and now you wish you hadn’t have given it away. It would’ve been so useful right now.

So it is with cards, and so it often is with life. We find ourselves looking at what we’ve got, and thinking “so close. So close. If I only had this one thing it would work. It would be perfect. As it is, there’s literally nothing I can do.”

Possibly, we lament the fact that we had it, and we gave it away. Or we lost it. Or someone took it from us. That one thing, the thing that would’ve made all the rest of this work. It is gone, and what we would give in order to get it back. A lot of stress, a lot of remorse, and even a lot of root beer has been drunk, lamenting that troubling reality. And as Snoopy once remarked, it takes a lot of root beer to drown your sorrows.

Sometimes, we look up at the hand of God, and since the arrangements of cards are out of our hands, but certainly not beyond his control, we might get tempted to wonder why he might have done this sort of thing to us. Why bring us so close, and yet have is not able to go all the way and win? Why deprive us of that one thing that would make such a wonderful, epic moment work so very well?

This is a hard thing. This is the harshness of life. This makes us tempted to think of ourselves as, if not the born loser, certainly losing out in this situation. And yet we forget something – well, actually, we forget a good deal of things, but there are some very, very important things that are best not forgotten.

We have not been told that we must win. Indeed, the most importing winning has already been done for us entirely, in Jesus. In his death on the cross, all of our missteps, our mistakes, our foolish moments will be through all that was good away, all of our losses and loser-ness, all of this is paid for and done. And we are now simply called his children, and there is no greater prize than the loving adoption that we live in, and the identity that we have.

What we have been invited to do, is to play. To play with those around us, not needing to worry about winning or losing, but for the joy of playing, sharing a different love in a different way of living while we play. And sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose.

But the most important prayer is not “why, oh Lord, have you taken this one thing from me?” “Why, O Lord, have you denied this one opportunity that would make things so very, very great?” A fallen world hurts us and deprives us and sets us up into all sorts of situations that were probably never the kind of living that God intended for us all in the first place. In contrast to this, God continues to reach into our lives and pick us up, and show us the way, and show us how to play what it is that we been given to play.

And so the most important prayer turns out to be “oh Lord, who knows everything, please give me the grace and the help to know how best to play the cards that are in my hand. Give me the love to rejoice in the winning of others, and to take my victories with gracious humility – for the sake of the remainder around me who are also playing.”

Of course, you may want to also ask what game, exactly, you’re supposed to be playing. After all, we often eventually discover that a lot of our lamentation about what is missing to make this one direction work is because we may not have been meant to go that direction in the first place. God alone knows where we best belong; and he invites us in the Word, “if any one of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

Ten, Jack, Queen, King—all of spades. And a nine of hearts. So close, and yet–

The game is gin, by the way, not poker. The Ace would do you little good; you’ve got your run of four. Why don’t you look at the rest of your hand? Be thankful: You’re off to a good start—

And ask for the grace and wisdom to know how to play out the rest of the game well—and to His glory.