Cheating at Cards – A Christian Metaphor?

Please, I’m not talking about you sitting at a poker table in Deadwood with gunslingers around the table, and you consider using the extra ace up your sleeve.  Don’t do it.  I’m talking about solitaire.


First, a little background.  Like most people, I had four grandparents, two sets.  My father’s father was a staunch, stern Baptist.  He did not allow anything that came close to gambling in his house.  Thus, you could not play anything with dice or cards.  That eliminated all board games, until I approached him with the Jesus game.  The squares along the board mentioned Bible stories, with the Bible references.  Basically, when you went from start to finish, you were treated to the story of the life of Jesus, from birth to ascension.  Granddaddy examined the board.  Then, he gave his approval only after handing me his King James Version Bible with the instructions that we would have to read the story each time we landed on a square.  The game took hours instead of 15-20 minutes, since there were two cousins and I playing.  That was okay, my cousins and I were just killing time until our grandmother, Mammy, got ready to start baking cookies.  Our problem was not drooling on Granddaddy’s precious Bible just thinking about sneaking in to eat the batter before she had a chance to start baking.


My other grandfather was quite different.  One time, when we went to visit Pawpaw and Mawmaw, my mother’s parents, my brother and sister pulled me aside.  They said, “Don’t watch Pawpaw play solitaire.  He cheats.”  Of course, if you tell a little kid not to do something, that’s all they want to do.  While my siblings played, read a book, or worked on a jigsaw puzzle, I was glued to Pawpaw’s side.  He had the television on, but he was looking at the cards on his TV tray.  He only played Klondike solitaire.  It didn’t take me long to figure out how to create the tableau and play the game.  In Klondike, you place a red card on a black card one order more on the tableau.  The tableau has cards that are face down and cannot be revealed until you move the bottom face-up card to another location.


That’s where Pawpaw cheated.  He’d get an available seven of clubs (black), and he would have two red sixes (hearts and diamonds) that were available (just for example).  Pawpaw would carefully lift the face-down cards under each red six to determine which was more advantageous to play.  What harm did it cause?  He won more often and had more fun.  He was the only one keeping score, although I doubted that he really kept score.  He wasn’t writing anything down.


The thing that I learned from Pawpaw’s cheating was the strategy used to play the game.  This was about the time that I was in kindergarten, but I was suddenly taking a college level Logic class.  I was absorbing the logic of this move versus that move while learning to become numb to the harmless cheat along the way.


Pawpaw would love to be around today.  He passed away about three months before my eleventh birthday, in 1963.  I didn’t get a lot of time to learn the fine art of cheating at cards from him.  What would Pawpaw do today with solitaire games on the phone, tablet, or computer?  The games have UNDO buttons.  He would have a blast going back and forth until he solved each shuffle of the cards, if the deal of the cards could be solved.


This leads me to a recent visit with my son.  He is a gamer.  He even writes reviews of table-top games on his website.  I had awakened early one day on our visit, and I cranked up my laptop.  I start the day with three Mahjong challenges and five Solitaire challenges.  While I do so, I read two devotions, one in each of two books.  My eyes take a while to focus.  I can see the cards, most of the time, and the Mahjong tiles, long before I can actually read the fine print in the devotionals.  I’m always moving the devotionals in and out to find that sweet spot for reading until my eyes can start focusing.  I know that it is time wasting to play solitaire, but since my eyes can’t focus that well, I find it a good diversion.


My son asked me what I was doing.  He could easily tell by looking at the screen.  I told him about the challenges.  The challenges were possible with that shuffle of the cards or tiles, but some were Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert.  It sometimes took a few tries before you got it.  Besides, you can cheat.


When I mentioned the word ‘cheat’, the game was instantly condemned.  My son couldn’t be in the same room with me while I played a game that allowed cheating.  I had forgotten that he was a gamer, and games have rules.  Cheating was the worst thing that a human could do in his eyes.


What I meant by cheating was that you had two choices when you got stuck.  You could start the game over.  The challenge always dealt the cards the same way for that challenge.  Or you could use the UNDO button to back up to where you made the wrong choice.  The key was that the challenge could be solved, if you made the correct moves.  Easy challenges allowed for a variety of moves that could lead to victory where Expert challenges might only have one set of winning moves and plenty of temptations along the way.  You never knew what the correct path was until you got stuck.


I started playing the challenges about two and a half years ago.  I have never failed to complete all of the Mahjong challenges, and I have never had a single month of perfection with the Solitaire challenges.  This had caused a lot of discussions between God and me.  The Mahjong challenges show me that all things are really possible with God (Mark 10:27).  The Solitaire challenges show me that I often fall short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23).  This is the first lesson learned.  As we travel through our Christian lives, we can learn from our successes only through understanding God’s role in the success.  We also understand our failures in how we fall short of God’s glory at times, usually when we try to go on our own steam.


The Solitaire challenges that usually box me into a corner are Klondike, Pyramid, and Tri-Peaks.  It is usually a counterintuitive move that needs to be made, or skipping an easy move at the beginning so that making the move or similar move later leads to the cards falling into place.  I’ll try the tough ones four or five times before giving up.  I don’t need to start the day with a headache.


But sometimes, I have a silent word with God before I start a Tri-Peaks (for example) challenge that is classified Expert.  I’m not praying to win a silly game.  I am affirming my faith.  “Lord, I have learned that when I make the right moves with each card that is played, the game seems to be poorly classified.  It should be classified Easy, instead.”  Making that statement doesn’t guarantee victory, but it helps to get my mind and heart straight and ready for the day.  In fact, the statement is true about the Solitaire challenge and the day to come.  I’ll start playing the cards and see three possible moves.  I’ll have this overpowering urge to go against logic (the logic that I started learning while watching Pawpaw cheating).  I’ll take the least advantageous move, and the challenge is quickly completed, no problems.  I chuckle and offer up a quick thank you.


Do I still use the UNDO button?  Often.  I have often thought that using the UNDO might diminish me in God’s eyes, but the sooner I finish the challenge, the sooner I will start writing my next post.  After all, my eyes can focus pretty well by the time I am finished playing cards.  And then again, when the UNDO is provided, is it cheating or using the available tools?  If you think that using the UNDO is cheating, don’t do it.  Trust that with God’s guidance and your faith in Him, you’ll make the moves He wants you to make.


As my day progresses, long after the solitaire challenges are done, I get nudged this way and that way.  Sometimes, I wonder why I should take the harder route to the day’s goal, then God reveals His special blessing that I would have missed taking the easier path.  The difference in the daily challenges on the computer and life is that we are often faced with our Kobayashi Maru.  All of my daily challenges have a solution to win the challenge.  The Kobayashi Maru was the no-win scenario in Star Trek lore.  It was designed to test the character of those subjected to the test.  Of course, James Tiberius Kirk is the only one to have successfully won the no-win scenario.  Spoiler alert!  He cheated.


Even in a setback, designed like Star Fleet Academy to test our character, following God’s lead and trusting, through faith, God will see us through, and we will be stronger as a result.


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