All or Nothing

Every once in a while, some friends and I get together to play some poker. The stakes are never too high, as most of us are a bunch of novice players just looking to hang out with friends for a fun night. Just the same, it’s always good to catch up on life over a good game of cards.

Throughout the evening, however, the competitive nature in us inevitably flows through and each player starts showing a more aggressive personality.

We will all aim to outsmart our opponents, teasing them with bluffs or cunningly raising the stakes of a bet in order to squeeze out some of the competition.

Sure, some players might be less ambitious than others with this approach, but at some point, each one of us will eventually take a risk for the prospects of a great reward.

In the end, isn’t that the whole point of the game – to win everything? If someone wants to take home all of the money on the table, he will first have to take all the money of his competitors.

Now, you can do this systematically and over a longer span, which can certainly play mind games with your opponents. Or, you can empty their wallets (or whatever they’re willing to spend that night, at least) in one fell swoop. Either way, you will ultimately have to make the decision to go all in.

To win it all, you eventually must be ready to bet it all. In other words, you must be both bold and brave.

Risking all of your chips without knowing other players’ cards is a huge gamble, no pun intended. After all, poker is far easier to play when you have a strong handle of your odds of winning. Since skilled players hardly ever tip their hand, such an experience is very rare.

Poker All InThe game of poker is much like the game of life in this respect.

Life is far easier to live when we have a concrete understanding of the impact of our decisions. However, this is not always the case.

Without knowing the future, we can only learn from our past and act in the present. Yet, we can make decisions as completely and prudently as possible, ensuring we are as prepared as we can be in order to plan wisely for the unknown.

We can take this same mindset and apply it when imagining an outcome for the afterlife.

If we truly wish to enter into Heaven upon our death, do we not need to give everything we have to God while on earth?

It seems, just like poker, to get the complete gift of eternal salvation from God, we must first offer Him all that we have in life on earth and include Him in all that we do each day.

Just as we cannot ultimately win a game of poker by only betting half of our chips, we cannot set only one foot into God’s Kingdom. Sooner or later, we need to commit our lives fully and wholeheartedly to Him, displaying this covenant with all of our being.

Much like a vending machine that will not distribute a snack or beverage if enough money is not inserted, God cannot fix our broken hearts unless we first give Him all of the pieces. He cannot steer us along the right road in life if we constantly apply the brakes and try to change direction.

No matter what anxiety or uncertainty may come with this realization, we must remember the promises our Lord gives us. We are assured by our God that our paths in life will be made straight with service to Him, and we will be rewarded for leaning on and placing our trust in Him. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Indeed, we venture into challenging waters in doing this, for we do not know the outcome. Yet, we don’t know if we’ll lose a pile of poker chips until we see our rival’s cards turned over and that should not deter us from raising the stakes of a bet.

How much we devote ourselves to God is a testament of our faith – the assurance of all that is hoped for and the certainty of all that is unknown. (Hebrews 11:1)

If we somehow prevent God from receiving us entirely and we do not give ourselves over to Him through daily works of faith, how can we expect anything different in return when we die? (Mark 8:38)

May each of us allow ourselves to confidently go all in with God, in order that we may reap the many blessings available and promised to us each day and on the Last Day.

In so doing, not only will we be both bold and brave in our life version of poker, but we can also enjoy being abundantly blessed.

I’ve Got that Joy Down in my Heart

Years ago when I was a teenager, my mom worked as a public health nurse. As part of its marketing campaign to drum up support for its programming, the health unit where she worked once came up with a catchy phrase, Be Happy, Be Healthy.

I was recently reminiscing about this with my wife over dinner, discussing how so many of us in the world today seek true happiness, while there seem to be a myriad interpretations on how best to obtain or recognize it.

We were talking at the time about how some parents give birth to babies with Down syndrome or other developmental difficulties, in comparison to how our two children were born without any serious health complications.

Such an event can understandably jar a parent and leave feelings of shock and dismay in the hearts of so many people. Yet, these babies are unmistakably blessings from Heaven and their arrival should only bring tears of joy, not sadness. Beautiful angels with so much promise laid out before them, and still, they could be welcomed into the world with trepidation.

My wife and I continued to talk about how so many parents – ourselves included – merely wish for their babies to be born healthy (as if there is one clear definition of that term).

Certainly, discovering one’s child is born free of any brain defects or breathing difficulties, missing limbs, or weak organs can provide a great sense of relief for the parents and heightened hope for both them and their baby. But should any health concern really serve as a stain on a baby’s life or compromise the joy in the lives of anyone around her?

We went on to remark how so many of us in society base our happiness on such matters as health, or finances, or social status and other aspects.

How many people base their level of delight or optimism on how big their home is, or the type of job they have, or clothes they wear? How many of us find ourselves comparing our possessions to those of our neighbor, whether they are a backyard, a vacation destination or a prom date? (Exodus 20:17)

As a high school teacher, I see all too often a level of dissatisfaction in life, as students can easily get caught up in a trap of questioning Am I enough? or Can I have more?

Whether it is a grade not worthy of university or parental acceptance, a body type not attractive to the cool clique, or a video game system or cell phone not up to par with today’s radically advanced standards, so many youth can easily have an innocent perception of happiness clouded or destroyed by surrounding influences.

It was during this dinner conversation that my wife mentioned another word beginning with H that was missing from the equation – holy.

It seems we focus far too much on worldly elements dictating our happiness and health, rather than appreciating all of the blessings bestowed upon us by God and seeing them as means for living a happy and healthy life, thanking and serving Him as the source of all of this.

If we as children of God truly believe our faith’s teaching that we are created in the image and likeness of God, then are we not also to live according to His example, rather than social expectations?

H3 - Formula for LifeInstead of focusing on riches and possessions, we are called to live with humility and simplicity, showing our thanks and sharing our gifts with those less privileged around us.

This can be achieved through so many ways, including giving clothes too small for us to impoverished children of a resort island next time we visit there, or donating them to a discount store right in our own community.

Rather than compare our appearances to celebrities or our peers and feeling inadequate, we are invited to appreciate our bodies as temples of God, treating them with respect and honor.

We can demonstrate this by eating healthy and regularly; exercising in a fair and consistent manner without causing undue stress or damage to ourselves; not feeling pressured to decorate our bodies excessively or artificially; and growing our intellect through constructive reading or strategic games.

In order to cultivate a more genuine and renewed foundation in our lives, we are challenged to deepen our walk of discernment and spirituality.

We can accomplish this through more frequent prayer and attendance at Mass, and reading from the Bible as part of our daily or weekly routine. We can also seize opportunities to be involved in our community, volunteering our time and money for various charities, research organizations and public awareness rallies, all in the name of fostering the beauty of life.

As well, we can celebrate opportunities for quality time with our loved ones, savoring moments such as a board game or picnic together as more important than watching a movie or our favorite TV show alone.

Doing such things to our best ability and with the involvement of our families, friends and new connections disguised as strangers, we can truly develop lives rich in happiness, health and holiness.

As we grow in this mission, we can achieve exactly what we are called to do – live saintly lives while discovering a path of acting justly, loving with mercy and walking humbly with God and His community. (Micah 6:8)