The Value of Playing Cards

PRINCIPLE: “When you’re dealt a bad hand, play the deal.”

I love playing a good card game. I always have. From childhood and games of Old Maid, War, Go Fish, and Solitaire to adulthood and the more ‘sophisticated’ games of Rummy, Canasta, Cribbage, Hearts, and Advanced Solitaire – and whether playing them with real cards or on computers or tablets – I love them all. I love them not only because they can be fun and promote the building of relationships, but also because most of them combine the dynamics of both luck and skill. Luck determines what cards I receive and skill determines what I do with them. Some games, my luck is bad and I cannot seem to get a good hand – then I must do my best by relying on my skill. Some games, my luck is good and I get nothing but good hands – I must still use my skill or the good hand will be wasted and I will lose my advantage. In either case, the only thing I can control is how I play the hand I’m dealt; that is totally up to me.

Just maybe that’s why I like card games – they remind me of life. Sometimes life hands me bad hands and sometimes good hands; I cannot control the hand I’m dealt. In either case, the only thing I can control is how I play the hand I’m dealt; that is totally up to me. I especially need to remember this when the hand I’m dealt is bad. “When you’re dealt a bad hand, play the deal.” I began to think of this many years ago when I read that as a youth Dwight Eisenhower was playing cards with his family. After being dealt a particularly bad hand he was busy complaining – so His mother told him that life was full of bad hands and that the task always was to play well the hand dealt. “When you’re dealt a bad hand, play the deal.” I thought of it again today when I read: “Nothing surpasses the holiness of those who have learned perfect acceptance of everything that is. In the game of cards called life one plays the hand one is dealt to the best of one’s ability. Those who insist on playing, not the hand they were given, but the one they insist they should have been dealt – these are life’s failures. We are not asked if we will play. That is not an option. Play we must. The option is how.” (1)

Acceptance of everything that is – it does not mean to adopt a defeatist attitude. Rather it means to recognize that while we cannot control the circumstances of life we can control how we respond to them. We always choose whether our circumstances are on top of us or if we are on top of our circumstances. “When you’re dealt a bad hand, play the deal.” The apostle Paul understood the principle well. From the depths of his prison cell he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:4-9) “When you’re dealt a bad hand, play the deal.”

Paul, in fact, encouraged this attitude because he knew it could be life-changing: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Rom. 8:28-29) God can use our circumstances to transform us. So play the hand dealt and become more like Jesus – who, by the way, didn’t try to change His circumstances but played the hand He was dealt. And His life turned out pretty well! “When you’re dealt a bad hand, play the deal.”

(1) A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, p. 200 (from Taking Flight, by Anthony deMello)

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