It’s no secret that I went through a deep time of turmoil and crisis between 2007 – 2009. Early in 2009 I was invited by my brother to join in the local tournament poker, and for a number of months I joined in. A few months later I started a telephone counselling course and gave the game away. I look back at that time with a lot of fondness and I have many good memories of that time. And so I want to reflect on five lessons I learnt during that time.
- There is power in total acceptance. I had experienced great heartache through being black banned by my previous church for separating from my wife. I was told I had lost my salvation among many other things – for daring to leave a extremely abusive situation. However, at the poker tables no one questioned my being there. Though we shared our life to a certain degree with each other, there was no judging of each other. God totally accepted us as we were, while we were dead in our sins – the church can learn a lesson of what it means to stop judging and embrace the broken humanity of which we live.
- Strategy. I learnt that strategy is important. Some stakes were worth playing more than others. I learned that I didn’t have to play every hand, and in the same way, I learnt that I don’t have to engage in every battle. I don’t have to have an answer for every situation or experience. I can simply say I don’t know.
- Understanding people. It helped me to understand people better. I helped me to watch people with the aim to understand their game play. Some players, including myself made many silly and simple mistakes. It helped me to understand what people were saying, or not saying and learn from those experiences.
- Understand the rules. I learnt that its important to know the rules. There is nothing more frustrating than playing a game and not knowing the rules. Every organisation has its own set of rules. In the church we call it the constitution. It provides the structures that are needed for the church to operate smoothly. In poker there are a variety of handbooks that you can read which help you to understand and play the game better. And we too have our own handbook, which we call the Bible. It informs us of God’s great love for us, and our part in his plans and purposes for the game of life.
- Even when you do the right things, stuff happens. No matter how good a player you are, how well you play and do the right things, you can still lose. I can’t tell you the number of times I took out a game playing the right hand at the right time. I also can’t tell you how many times I had what I considered a great hand, and was wiped out by a better hand. In poker, stuff happens. In the same way, stuff happens to us in life. No matter how hard we try, no matter how well we do life; things will happen that wipe us out from the game. Sickness, accidents, death, relationship breakdown etc. will be our experience of life. But the game continues on, with a new game starting soon after, in which all are invited to join once again. In the same way, we live in a community of faith, one of which God is the game master, he continues to invite us to come and join him in the journey of life.