Know When to Hold ‘Em

Those of you who know something about Country and Western music probably recognize the title of this inspiration.  They come from a song which Kenny Rogers sang.  I am not a big Country and Western fan, but I do know this song.  I also will admit that I usually do not know all the words to songs.  This is true of all kinds of music.  I even have heard gospel songs all my life and still cannot repeat all the verses.  So I did not know all the words to Kenny Rogers’ gambler song.

However, I did know the two lines that define the song for me.  Those lines tell us the truth about gamblers---at least gamblers who are successful.  “You've got to know when to hold 'em, Know when to fold 'em.”  I am not much of a card player.  And I am not a gambler at all.  I do have some philosophical questions about gambling.  And I am really too cheap to gamble my hard-earned money!  But I also do not think gambling is just about cards and roulette wheels. 

In some ways life is a gamble.  Or it is perhaps better to say that in life there are some gambles we take.  By this I mean there are risks in life.  There are places---crossroads, junctures, decisions---where it is not clear which way is best.  In some instances it is difficult to know which way is the right way.  We have to take a chance, but we are not sure about our chances!

In this sense life is like the card game.  We know what we have.  We hold the cards---the known things---in our hands.  But we are also aware we do not now what all the other cards out there are.  Many times the unknown is bigger than the known.  It could be better and it could be worse.  Is it riskier to play on---to gamble?  Or should we be very cautious and quit the game?  I know there are times the riskiest play is to do nothing.

So I decided to go to Kenny Rogers’ song and see what kind of advice the professional gambler offered.  I found the words I knew were actually in the middle of the song: “You've got to know when to hold 'em, Know when to fold 'em.”  The next line I had forgotten, but is very important: “Know when to walk away.” 

“That is so true of life,” I thought.  There are times in life when we intuitively know we probably should not be playing.  Even if we have the cards in our hands and are tempted to try to win, it is in our best interests to walk away. Spiritually, this is very good advice.  There are times I have been involved in some things which may be going very well.  I am tempted to keep on playing.  But intuitively, I have the sense that God is saying, “let’s move on.”  It is time to “walk away,” as Kenny Rogers says.  

The other temptation is not to walk away.  Sometimes we are tempted to keep playing, even when we are losing---maybe big time---and we harbor the illusion that “a little more time” and it will get better.  God may be leading us into new arenas and we are so comfortable that we do not want to walk away.

I like this Country and Western song because it offers advice.  But it is not very specific.  We have to know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, and when to walk away.  It’s good advice.  The problem now is to know which action to do at what point!  That’s the risk.  That is the gamble.

However, the other factor in the life-is-a-gamble scenario is the spiritual piece.  We are not in this alone.  There is always the Spirit-factor. Classically, this is described as discernment.  Discernment is the process by which I figure out what God desires for me to be and to do.  That also is a bit like gambling; initially, it is not clear what to do---hold, fold, or walk away. 

But discernment is also not like gambling.  God does have a desire.  And I can come to know it---God’s will.  Whatever God wants, I will do.  If I can discern that, then I will know whether to hold ‘em…

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