My Uncle Frank came to visit my grandparents every summer when I was growing up. He and I would play games and cards hour after hour. I particularly liked Stratego, a board game in which two players pit their armies against each other. I developed a strategy that I employed every time, which almost always resulted in a win. Basically, it was a defensive posture focused on protecting my flag and setting traps in which the parts of my defenses that seemed weakest actually obscured hidden dangers. I rarely went on the offensive, trusting that the way I set up my army usually guaranteed victory before the first move was even made. By the time my uncle figured out where my flag was, he usually did not have enough resources left to capture it.
Looking back now, I realize that I also began to employ this same strategy with life. Prepare thoroughly in advance, survey the board and plan for every possibility, control everything you can, and then trust that things will go your way because they should go your way. For the most part, this strategy worked well in school. (Isn't school essentially a prolonged board game?)
When entering the world of work, relationships and adult problems, however, this strategy simply did not work anymore. There were too many variables. No matter how hard I prepared and planned, the unexpected happened. Life turned out to be a Mystery that could be neither controlled nor understood.
Somehow this didn't seem fair. Why shouldn't life function like Stratego? If I did my part, shouldn't the world do its part and cooperate? Through all my hard work, have I not proved my worth and earned some sort of reward?
My resentful attitude reminds me of a character in a story Jesus told, which is commonly known as "The Prodigal Son". Both sons in the story are actually lost. The younger son wasted his inheritance on partying. The older son stayed behind on the farm as he thought a good boy should, yet he resented how his life was turning out. He worked hard every day, followed the rules, and was the poster child for responsibility, yet no one seemed to notice. No one even gave him a "like" on his Facebook page. Yet, his irresponsible partying brother comes home, and his father throws him a ginormous party. And the kicker: the older son stays out in the field all day working while the party is underway. No one even bothers to tell him about his brother's return and the shindig.
The father's words to him as he sulks in the unfairness of it all still resonate for me today: "All I have is yours already." This is the message the older son and I both need to hear:
By all this hard work, you are trying to earn what is already yours. You are innately worthy and beloved. No amount of strategy or work can earn what must be received as a given. Receiving your "belovedness" as a given, life starts to feel more like a gift and less like an imposition. A joyful balance of responsibility and freedom emerges. Yes, your brother needs to learn responsibility, and you need to learn freedom. Wholeness is the balance of both. And the balancing point is compassionate self-acceptance.
Life is far more mysterious, complicated and glorious than a board game. Perhaps the greatest mystery is that I am already worthy and forever ok without doing anything! Living from a sense of being irrevocably loved, that resentful sinkhole of compensating for the feeling that I'm never enough...that sinkhole starts to fill from the inside out.
I'm learning a new approach to this board game of life, and living from my "belovedness" may turn out to be the riskiest yet most rewarding strategy of all.
P.S. Beginning in mid-April, a new group will meet every Tuesday night to experience and explore together this mysterious freedom and "belovedness". For more information, go to: Tuesday Night Live.