Chutes and Ladders
“If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.” –John 14:3
When my boys were young, one of the board games they liked to play was Chutes and Ladders. I would try to tempt them into an enticing game of Candy Land or a rousing game of Trouble, but try as I might, Chutes and Ladders would all too often prevail. Now, you’d think a game as simple as this one would be a first choice on game night, but the issue I had was that too often it took too long to play. I expect that with Monopoly; it takes about three good snow days to complete this epic game. But, with Chutes and Ladders? With a game that is geared for children ages 4-7? Who would expect it to be a “let’s take a break and finish up later” kind of game?
The trouble lies in the chutes. When you land on a square where a chute begins, you have to slide down to where it ends. That could send you back 10 squares, 38 squares, or…on my most frequented chute…63 squares! The object of the game is to make it to the 100th block. While the ladders allow you to scale over rows of squares, it’s the presence of the chutes that catapults the game into a perpetual, monopoly-like, status. Move ahead 4 squares; climb a ladder 22 squares; slide down 25 squares, and so on, and so on, and so on. It’s a game, I’ve come to realize, that is replicated in life as well. Little did I know that shrink-wrapped within the simple game of Chutes and Ladders was the far more complex game of Shoots and Ladders. A game where my life’s choices land me on certain squares; a game where I’ve sometimes climbed upward, occasionally slipped downward, yet continually moved forward, all too often muttering, “Ah, shoot! Where’s my ladder?”
I’ve read that the more one thinks about something, the more it becomes etched upon one’s brain. Like a tethered animal wears a path around its post, so too do our thoughts etch patterns upon our mind until we see them as clearly as if they stood before us. Apparently, I’ve played enough rounds of Chutes and Ladders to have a picture of the game board engraved upon my frontal lobe. For years now, when something good happened…and especially when something not so good happened…my thoughts have jumped to the board game in my mind and I either envisioned myself climbing a ladder or sailing down a chute. The value was not in how far I’d advanced but rather in the fact that, whether climbing or curtailing, I was still on the board; I was still in the game. Sometimes, that simple fact was enough to steady me. It reminded me to step back, take a look at the whole board, reassess my position upon it and reflect upon the overall object of the game: to get to the final square. As long as I was still on the board, I was still in the game; as long as I was still in the game, there were still advances to be made. And so I’d take another step, move ahead at least one more square, and hope that my next move would not result in an, “Ah, shoot…I’m gonna need a longer ladder!”
Can you relate? I’m guessing you can. I think we all have markers upon this board. I think we all begin the game of Shoots and Ladders when we are born and we’re removed from the board when we draw our last breath. And, in between these start and finish lines, we move across the “board of life”. Now, before your “new age” detectors go off, rest assured that I am not saying life is a random game where some unknown hand flicks a spinner and randomly sends us through life. What I am saying is that there is a beginning and an ending to our life; that life is filled with a series of forward and backward, upward and downward moves; and, that there is a goal to the game…successfully reaching the final square! Within that context, I do see life as a game; and, as long as I’m on the board, I want to be in the game. I don’t want to be a quitter because I fell down a chute; I don’t want to be a bragger because I climbed 57 rungs; and I don’t want to miss my next turn because I wasn’t paying attention. (For a while, I though Ahem was my middle name. As in, “Kris…Ahem…it’s your move.”) Until I reach the final square, I am supposed to move; until I draw my last breath…I am still in the game!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced a loss or setback of some type and the image of Chutes and Ladders flashed across my mind and I reminded myself, “It’s just a chute. You’re still on the board…you’re still in the game. Just wait and move ahead one more square on your next turn.” It may sound weird (a concept I feel completely unqualified to determine), but it has anchored me more times than not. And it does so because it’s a picture of Biblical truth, of Godly grace. Only God knows our last move; only God can pick up our marker and determine when the game is finally over; only God can extend the ladder that leads us to our final destination…to the last square marked “Winner!”
There is, however, one distinguishing rule that differs between the actual board game and the figurative life game, and that is who moves your marker. In the actual game of Chutes and Ladders, you do. You spin, you count, you move, you slide. Everything lies within the power of your fingertips. But, in the figurative game of Shoots and Ladders, you have a choice as to who moves your marker. In this scenario, there are three choices:
- You move your marker
- Others move your marker
- God moves your marker
The importance of choosing the right mover not only increases your involvement in the game, but it also determines your inheritance at the end of the game. If you decide to maintain control, then you have to work your way through the game on your own and, should you reach the “Winner’s” box, your reward will simply be that you finished the game. If you decide to let others spin for you and push or pull you along the board, then you’ll lose the added pressure of having to think for yourself but you’ll also lose the added privilege of having accomplished something. And, should you arrive at the “Winner’s” box, you’ll not be congratulated for your own efforts, but condemned for never truly engaging in the game. After all, how can you claim what you did not choose? But, if you allow God to be your Mover, if you choose Him to hold your marker, then it’s a game changer. For now, though the board is still filled with chutes and ladders, it’s God’s hand that softens every fall and establishes every ascent. And, while He sets up the board and positions us on our squares, He allows us to make our own moves, knowing that for games to be enjoyable, they must also be exciting. But within the realm of choices and variables, there lies one immovable, one unchangeable truth: when God is our Mover, He is also our Rewarder. Now the “Winner’s” box has meaning; now it’s more than a position, it’s a place; it’s more than an accomplishment, it’s an accommodation, it’s more than an ending, it’s a beginning. For now, I won’t merely have a reward that I constructed, or that others consumed, but one which God created…just for me! Now I have an inheritance, and that makes all the shoots…and all the ladders…worthwhile!
Life is like the game of Chutes and Ladders. We advance, we retreat, we celebrate, we mourn, but we always move forward, we always move toward the final square. The question lies not in the number of chutes and ladders we encounter, but in the meaning, and reality, contained within the “Winner’s” box. Where will your last move find you? Ascending the final ladder to Heaven, or descending the final chute to hell? While you’re still in the game, you might want to give your marker to God…while it’s still your turn!
“If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.” John 14:3