I push-broomed long swaths of melting ice and snow off the deck last Tuesday morning and cleared the driveway. By noon, bright sunshine, warmer temperatures, and steady winds finished the job, and Keith and I were able to run errands before the next incoming storm.
Swish. Crunch. Pitch. Muscle memory from my Connecticut childhood. And reflecting on winters with my parents.
Mother died a year ago last Tuesday. She made good use of her ninety-six years on earth. But, as with all of us in life, she won some and lost some along the way.
Two weeks ago, I reviewed the movie Critical Thinking, the story of the 1998 Miami Jackson High School chess team, the first inner-city team to win the U.S. National Chess Championship. The players won many games—and lost some, too. And though winning was obviously the goal, understanding loss was just as important.
There are three ways to lose a chess game: getting checkmated, resigning to your opponent, or running out of time. All are equally scored as zero points no matter how many moves in the game. If you lose on time, however, it doesn’t matter if you were about to win or be checkmated. In chess, everyone is given the same amount of time—a question that plays into the end of the movie—and a loss is a loss.
Except that losing on time when you’re in a good position means you’ve mismanaged your time.
Some players feel more comfortable losing on time rather than risking bad moves and being outplayed. Maybe they tell themselves they would have won but for that darn clock. But if they run out of time, they lose the chance to win—and perhaps more importantly, to learn from the game, win or lose. In essence, by not trying, not venturing, or not moving—or deliberating too long and moving too slowly—we miss opportunities. We beat ourselves.
If I’d had more time, I could have gotten that job, we tell ourselves and others, or dated my heartthrob or finished writing my book.
In an Ash Wednesday blog posted on Mockingbird, Jason Micheli quoted Janet Malcolm from her book In the Freud Archives: “There are few among us who do not resist self-knowledge. We are all perpetually smoothing and rearranging reality to conform to our wishes; we lie to others and ourselves constantly, unthinkingly. When, occasionally — and not by dint of our own efforts but the under the pressure of external events — we are forced to see things as they are, we are like naked people in a storm.”
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust—the truth. But Ash Wednesday is not really about our mortality, Micheli writes, it is about our sin. When the much-awaited Messiah came to earth, we crucified him. That’s the naked truth.
Micheli: “In his inaugural address, speaking about the violent insurrection on the Capitol, President Biden stated, ‘This is not us. This is not who we are. This is not who we are as Americans.’ With the help of the prophet David, Christians are those people who say, ‘No, Joe, that’s exactly who we all are.’”
When naked in the storm of his own sin, King David stared at the unvarnished reality of his bad moves. He confessed his sins and asked for mercy, “According to your steadfast love….” (Psalm 51) We like David can embrace our true selves and confess our sins. Because we know God is forgiving and our time is finite: life will end. And we can lose or win by our actions or simply lose on time.
Lent. Forty finite days to learn more about ourselves. Thanks to God’s grace and mercy.
Several inches of snow, sleet, and freezing rain fell on Thursday. I waited until the temperature rose above freezing on Friday and Saturday afternoons to push-broom the deck and clear the driveway. Building Lenten muscle memory: seeing things as they are.
This morning, sleet and freezing rain are falling again. After the rain quits and the temperature rises, I’ll be out clearing the driveway, walkways and deck, tackling that stubborn lump of ice below the dining room greenhouse windows. Building more muscle memory: seeing the truth about my stubborn self.
With God’s help, I’ll sweep away self-deception to reveal my true self. And make good use of the time I’ve been given.
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