Jane Johnson Struck

Jane Johnson Struck
The percolations of a coffee-guzzling wife, mom, grandma, writer, and editor

Drink This In

"Coffee, according to the women of Denmark, is to the body what the Word of the Lord is to the soul."
Isak Dinesen
"Coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical."
Jonathan Swift

Monday, June 8, 2009

Playing Our Hand

Why it's not what we're dealt but how we use it

I normally don't agree with Susan Estrich's politics. So I typically bypass her op-ed columns in our local daily newspaper. But this morning Susan's column, "Imperfect Moments," caught my eye. Her opening line, "I have hated graduations most of my life," hooked me in.

Susan shared how her college graduation was bookended by the trauma of rape and the heartbreak of absent family. Later, when she graduated from law school, she didn't even bother to attend her own ceremony. Susan admitted that for years her unhappy experiences so skewed her perspective on this rite of passage that even as a Harvard law professor she skipped her students' ceremonies.

Then Susan had an "aha" moment. She began accepting requests to speak at graduations and soon realized that as hope-filled and happy a graduation can be, it's also populated by imperfect people tempted to assume everyone else has it so much better than they do . . . just as Susan did for many years. She says,
"Here is my message to graduates . . . learned the hard way. Life is not about the hand you're dealt, but how you play it. . . . Life isn't fair, but you can be. The world isn't just, but you can still live a life of honor. The happiest people are not the ones with the best cards (emphasis mine), but those who play theirs best--and best doesn't necessarily mean for the greatest financial reward."
While I know nothing about Susan's faith, I think she's nailed some solid spiritual truth here. Jesus bluntly told us that we'll have trouble in this world. Life isn't fair. Bad things, evil things, heartbreaking things--rape, divorce, estrangement, rejection--happen to good folks who don't deserve a bum deal.

Jesus followers are called to live full-tilt in the center of God's grace, no matter what cards life deals us. And we're meant to do it with gratitude. So problems come when we start comparing our "cards" with those of others, thinking the hand we've been dealt isn't what we deserve. We end up ignoring the fact that God alone knows his reasons for circumstances over which we have no control--chronic illness, abuse, estrangement, unemployment, financial woes, broken hearts. But frankly, sometimes his reasons are simply none of our business.

Recently I encountered some pointed verses in John's gospel. The resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples and cooked them fish. Then Jesus turned to Simon Peter and briefed him on the type of death he’d suffer for his faith (John 21:18-19). Peter, ever the tactless one, saw John and blurted out, “What about him, Lord?” And Jesus quickly rebuked him: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:21-22, italics mine).

In other words, Jesus says, Stop comparing. Use the hand you've been dealt for my glory, and stop worrying about the other guy--the one who seems to have everything going his way.

So, Susan, you and I agree, for once: Life isn't fair, but you can be. The world isn't just, but you can still live a life of honor.

Let's not miss out on what we do have. And let's never forget that life's raw deals ultimately can be redeemed--and that we play our cards best when we allow God into the game.


  1. Hi Jane! I marked your blog as my favorites so I'll try to check in often. So glad to discover you're also a coffee lover! Kindred spirits. ~Suzanne Fisher