Chutes and Ladders

A few days ago, I had this thought that life is kind of like standing in the middle of a ring of knife throwers at the circus. And I legitimately started writing about that, except it sounded just as morbid and dangerous as you would imagine. But then I remembered another analogy I had been thinking about when I drove to NY to see my mom in the hospital, and good news, it’s way less creepy.

I was at a friend’s wedding shower right before getting the call from my dad that day. One moment I was celebrating something wonderful, and the next I was afraid of something terrible. And I started thinking about how life is kind of like a game of Chutes and Ladders. Remember that game? (Apparently in the UK it’s “Snakes and Ladders” which feels like we’re back to the circus analogy again. Happy Halloween, everyone.)

Chutes and Ladders is not a game of skill. You roll the dice and see what happens: chute, ladder, or something in between.

Life feels a lot like that, I think. Sometimes you get unexpected good news and boom, it’s a ladder to a new reality. And sometimes you get bad news and before you can even process it, you’re sliding down, down, down. But most of the time, it’s something in between—a medium chute, a tiny ladder, a few steps forward—one turn after another.

My immediate reaction to the Chutes and Ladders game of life is to construct a winning strategy by planning out all of my options. Literally, this is exactly what I did the day after coming home from the hospital with my mom. I started planning. (And decorating? But that’s a strange story for another day.)

It’s like I think that life will be better if I’m better at life. Maybe if I do yoga two times a week and run three times a week. Maybe if I clean the bathroom every Saturday. Maybe if I make Tuesdays writing days. Maybe if I bake bread and make hummus and have a rotating schedule of freezer meals. Maybe if I write down things I’m grateful for at the end of every day. Maybe if I take more pictures.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

When really, every day we’re just rolling the dice. We are taking what we get and deciding how to respond to it.

This isn’t an anti-planning manifesto. Plans are great. I’d probably feel a lot more zen if I stuck to a cleaning schedule and never ran out of pantry staples and worked out, ever. Plans aren’t the problem.

The problem, at least for me, is that plans make me feel like I have control. And I want control. But I don’t have control, because Chutes and Ladders.

There are a bunch of easy answers just waiting to be called on here—don’t worry! surrender! have faith!—and I’m giving all of them the side-eye because child, please. It’s never that simple.

It’s not this simple, either, but these are the thoughts I’ve been mulling over:

Do you remember Venn Diagrams? The three circles that overlap with each other and all intersect in one middle point? That’s how I’m starting to see this conversation. Maybe there’s a circle for Plans and a circle for Real Life and a circle for God. More often than not, I want to go all-in on one circle by itself—to plan 87 different things I can do to win the day, or to ask God for a one-step solution that miraculously solves whatever problem is in front of me.

But I think instead of camping out in one circle, my best bet is to live in the center where Plans and Real Life and God collide. To make plans, but hold them loosely. To show up for whatever the dice roll of the day is—even (especially) if it’s not the roll I wanted. And to trust that somehow, God is sovereign over all of it.

This has the potential to be my own complicated version of an easy answer, but for today, I think it’s worth a try.

And at least we’ve moved away from snakes and knife throwers, which is something I think we can all be grateful for.

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