There is an old saying that says something like, “You have to play the hand dealt you.” Obviously this uses a figure of speech drawn from the world of playing cards. It could be poker or some other card game. In card games there typically is only one winner. The winner is normally determined by some element of skill and luck. The skill part is obvious. If you know the rules of poker and if you have years of experience, you are more likely to win than a novice at the game. On the other hand, if the novice is really lucky in the cards dealt, he or she will be very hard to beat---regardless of skill.
An Ace is an Ace regardless of skill. Two Aces beat one Ace every time! I have not played cards for years, perhaps even decades. When I was small, I remember my parents playing cards. And during my growing up years, I played some cards. That probably was more prevalent in the pre-technology days. Most folks I know today would rather be on their cell phone checking Twitter or playing electronic games than they would sit at a table with three or four others to play a game of cards.
And yet, the saying goes on in our lives. I often hear people tell me or some other person, “You have to play the hand dealt you.” That saying takes on metaphorical meaning to comprehend and articulate people’s fate in life. It applies to all sorts of situations in our lives. To offer that statement about our situation is to make a statement about the destiny of something. “You have to play the hand dealt you,” means, in effect, that is your destiny. You can’t change the facts.
Once upon a time, I played a great deal of basketball. I dreamed of being six feet four inches or something like that. I wanted to be tall enough to dunk the ball impressively. I imagined how good I actually would be if I could only grow a few more inches to reach my desired height. But as my friends would say, “You have to play the hand dealt you.” In fact, I would never make six feet. That was normal, but I wanted more. I felt it was much harder to be great at basketball if I were not six feet four inches. The hand dealt me apparently doomed me to average when it came to basketball performance.
I began to think about this statement. Indeed, there is an element of destiny to it. If I am playing cards, I have to play the ones in my hand. There are many facts in our lives---they are the cards we are dealt. There may come a time when we are diagnosed with cancer or a heart condition. That becomes a card we are dealt. We have to play it. Not all cards are winners. We may actually die from the cancer we have. That is a card we are dealt. I can be stoic about it. I can be mad about it. But it is the “card” I am holding.
The big difference between a literal card game and “life as a card game” is the fact that we can get up from the card table and quit. We can toss the cards we are dealt on the table and leave. There is much in life that we cannot quit. We cannot toss cancer or heart problems on the table and leave. “You have to play the hand dealt you.”
This quickly becomes a spiritual issue for me. It is spiritual because in the card game of life, I am never alone. And it is spiritual because I never have to be without hope. I may have to play the hand I am dealt, but that does not mean most of us will be losers! In fact, in the spiritual realm, we all can be winners. Let’s explore this a bit.
The good news is that destiny may be a fact, but destiny is not the same thing as predestination. Destiny is always paired with freedom. Predestination means the game is fixed. It ultimately does not matter what you think or feel, the outcome is set. On the other hand, destiny is paired with freedom. Destiny means there are some things that cannot be changed, i.e. the cards you are dealt. But you have freedom---sometimes immense freedom---to choose how to think, how to feel and how to play out the hand dealt to you.
Our freedom gives us possibilities to deal with our destiny. Again, the cancer example is helpful. Cancer is destiny; freedom is how I deal with it. I can be resigned or I can fight. Destiny does not dictate the response. I can mope and be lonely. Or I can find some joy and friends to travel the road with me. In fact, it is destiny that we all will die. We have some real freedom how we are going to travel that road!
Freedom provides me a sense for the possibility of joy. How many times we see folks who seem so much worse than we are, but they have a joy and radiance that may make our lives seem quite pedestrian. I would rather have cancer and joy than be healthy and depressed and despairing. At least, I could live!
Destiny does not mean no hope. Destiny may channel in some way the course of our lives. But destiny does not dictate how the trip will be taken. In the Spirit there is every reason to expect and hope life’s trip can be meaningful, satisfying and fulfilling. Most of us won’t be holding Aces. But the game of life in God’s Spirit is full of wild cards---like grace and compassion. With such hope, I am playing on---living on the hand I have been dealt.