Thursday night I was alternately gabbing and pre-grieving as I got ready to leave my parents’ place and head back to Baltimore. I had been in Lancaster county for six weeks due to a set of very peculiar circumstances, which are unsurprisingly common during a pandemic, it seems. I was thankful for this unexpected time with my folks, but I sure was going to miss them. As a last hurrah before leaving, we decided to play Scrabble.
It was a delight to open up the old Scrabble box (once we found it hiding in the basement, that is) and discover old scorecards from games long past. As someone whose fifth-grade self considered making a living as a sports statistician, and an immense nostalgic to boot, this was a treasure trove indeed. It had been years since I had played Scrabble, opting instead for it’s noncommittal cousin Bananagrams or the digital alternative, Words with Friends.
Scrabble is a very interesting social experiment if one does not play with a timer. After jumping out to a monstrous early lead by playing “berates” on the first play of the game for a score of 74 points, I saw my advantage dwindle away as my dad cleared his own rack a few turns later with “droplets” and steadily chipped away until the lead was his. As I started losing after such an impressive start, I found that I started to edge away from the “make a decision and play your letters in a reasonable amount of time so as not to make everyone bored and mad” end of the spectrum towards the “I want victory and I will take my sweet time until I find the word that gets it” extreme.
And it was in this phase of the game that the peculiar tricks of Scrabble hit my brain in full force. I would see a word I almost had, and look for the letter that I needed to complete it. Upon finding it, I would discover it was in a location that made the word unplayable, so I would start to search for another word to play. However, in this process, I would “accumulate” those missing letters that I had previously looked for, adding them to my mental rack of possible word-building material. (For instance, say I had b-o-w and wanted to play “bowl,” but the “L” was completely sequestered away in a tower guarded by a whole garrison of incompatible consonants and surrounded by an alligator-infested moat. As I began to search for other options, I would assume I had the “L” at my disposal, forgetting its regrettable similarity to a fairy-tale princess.)
Because of this, I was continually stung by the frustration of finding an unexpected and brilliant play, only to discover that it was so clever and unforeseen because I was relying on letters I didn’t have to begin with. I found myself wistfully imagining a happier game of Scrabble in which I did have those missing vowels and consonants at my disposal.
I went on to lose to my dad, and as I mused on my misfortune (and perhaps a lack of skill/shortage of vocabulary), I was struck by how similar my thoughts in the game were to my reactions to life’s circumstances. As I cruised through the first few rounds of the game, I was content with my lot. The letters I drew were excellent, leading to some real humdingers of Scrabble words. But when I was behind with only two “I’s” for vowels and several splinters under my mental fingernails from scraping the bottom of the word barrel, I was far from satisfied. I was wishing (earnestly, even) for letters I didn’t have.
When life is going smoothly, it is easy for me to be content. But when things become difficult, how quickly I slip into wishing I had what others have! I compare what God has put in my path with what He has given to others. “Mom has an ‘L.’ Couldn’t I have an ‘L’ instead?”
It reminds me of when Jesus is talking with Peter after He comes back from the dead and makes some breakfast for His disciples on the beach. They are walking along, and John is following behind them. After Jesus once again tells Peter “Follow me!”, Peter asks Jesus about John.
“‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’” (John 21:21-22 NET)
This exchange is such a necessary reminder for me. Jesus has called me to follow Him along the path He has set for me. He has not called me to walk someone else’s path with its blessings and obstacles. If we may say that He is the one who arranges the Scrabble racks of our lives, then it is as if He would respond to my sidelong glances at my neighbors’ letters with a gentle reminder: “I know you want an ‘L,’ but I didn’t give you an ‘L.’ I gave you the letters you have for a reason. Follow me!”
Thanks to my community group at church, I’ve been listening to the Bible Recap podcast hosted by Tara-Leigh Cobble. In a recent episode, I was struck by these words:
“God doesn’t respond to our prayers with a ‘no’ because He’s holding out on us. When I get a ‘no’ from Him, that is His kindest possible answer. Because even in the ‘no,’ God still has a good plan to glorify Himself and to bless His people at the same time. His ‘no’ is always for a greater ‘yes.'”Tara-Leigh Cobble
What an encouragement! God’s blessings for His people may never look quite like we thought they would, but His designs are ultimately for the best. As I journey through life, at times envious of the positions and possessions of others, may I always remember that He is the God of the greater “yes!”