Monday, September 19, 2011

Staring down a full house

I just finished a conversation with a friend about detours in life; about loss and grief; about failures; about losing a sense of direction. He tells me of this painting he had a painter friend of his create for him. "Paint the moment in a man's life when he realizes all his young man dreams will not come true." In the painting, the man is sitting on a stool, his head in his hand, staring off to some distant place, deep within himself. Reds, greens, blues and black fill the background with emotion. This is a mid-life crisis picture.

I tell him I think I went through my mid-life crisis at twenty-seven. When my Papa died and my huge dreams died and I realized, gradually, I wouldn't be changing the world in Africa. Not even in Seattle. Who am I, really? I wondered. Like the man on the stool, I felt I'd been stunned with a flood of emotion: the realization of who I really was versus who I thought I was or who others thought I was or who I thought I wanted to be.

What is success, this friend and I ponder together? When we focus on what we perceive to be our biggest failings, are we blind to the successes? Perhaps, I suggest, the big goal in life, the real success, is quietly staring us in the face. It is not in what we do after all, but in the type of person we become.

In church yesterday, the pastor is talking about "abiding" in Jesus. This is a beautiful word for dwelling with, making our homes with, staying with. Abiding. He uses a poker game as an example in his closing remarks. There comes a point in every poker game, he says, when one player decides to go all in. Nothing held back, this player looks at his cards and pushes all his chips to the center. When we're looking at the gospel - the good news of Jesus' story, which is also our story - it's like we're staring down a full house, the pastor says. Why wouldn't we go all in? What have we got to lose and what could possibly come along that would be better than this?

So, too, there comes a point when we can decide to go all in with Jesus. Waking up each day and living as if faith in him means something, as if his love is vital to us, as if we could not live without him. Surely even in this decision to go all in, cast all our chips to the center, we will have failures. But really, what failure is there if all bets are placed on him, because he cannot fail. I realize I'm talking now to people who are convinced as I am that there is no more worthwhile pursuit in life than Jesus, but who also struggle to live it.

I walk away from my friend and sit down to write, sit down stunned. We wonder, so much of our lives, it seems, what we should be doing. Wondering if we've been successful, or if we've failed big, how we can become successful in light of all these failures. And I wonder if the real success is in going all in, every day, and on the days when I don't go all in, taking my chips back to the table and pushing them all toward the center.

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