The Long Game

“You see, son, we play the long game.”

A son struggled with injustice done to his father. The situation involved personal hurt and the end of a position. It wasn’t fair. How was he supposed to deal with these painful events, this sense of harm and hurt to his father and their family?When he raised his objections to his dad, the father’s loving response was this reference to “the long game.”

So, what’s “the long game?”

This father had learned to put the short-term trials into the context of eternity. He had learned not to overly value the immediate circumstances but instead to interpret temporal disappointments in light of the eternal purposes of a loving Heavenly Father who does all things well.

Long-term lens

He taught his son that “playing the long game” is a necessary perspective if we are to avoid getting knocked off our pins with the short-term disappointments of life. The apparently unfair grade, getting passed over for the promotion, the bad call from the officials, not getting the preferred part in the play, disappointing treatment by others in the church, or being assigned the parking place in the next zip code, all loom large with a myopic focus on the immediate.  Life’s “molehill” disappointments can quickly become “mountains” if improperly interpreted.  It also reveals some of the paradoxes at work as we try to raise resilient, responsible, and resourceful children.

Paradox- a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement of proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true. Scripture contains lots of paradoxes. What appears to be one reality, is in fact, it’s opposite.

Paradox in scripture

Gain is loss? “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” Mark 8:36

Weak is strong? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  II Cor 12: 8,10

Trial is joy? “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3

Learning “the long game”

Paradox can sometimes be seen in the disconnect between desired outcomes for ourselves and our students and the process required to produce the preferred end results.

For example:

We want our children (and us) to:Without:
Be resilientexperiencing hardship
Be patienthaving to wait
Be self-disciplinedbeing tempted to take the shortcut
Have strong faithfacing honest doubts
Be polite and courteousbeing faced with rude, upset people
Learn a strong work ethicrequiring self-denial
Be contenthaving to do without
Be healthyregulating one’s diet
Have a sense of justice and fairnesshaving to experience injustice
Be strong verbal communicatorshaving hard face-to-face conversations
Have honest, open relationshipsrisking being rejected
Be well rested and alert for schoollimiting involvement to get enough sleep
Have integrity, honestyenvying cheaters who sometimes get the upper hand
Have high test scoreshaving to study long hours
Win the championshipworking on skills outside of practice
Make good decisionsexperiencing the consequences of bad decisions
Be an effective writerhurt feelings when re-writing is required
Compete with integritylosing to a cheater or facing injustice
Walk with Godfacing failure and the need for repentance and faith

The inconvenient experiences on the right are usually part of the prerequisites to develop “the long game” qualities on the left. Since the desired qualities must be learned, we know it will likely involve some occasions of trial and error.

Confidence in “the long game”

The “long game” story was shared by this son at his father’s funeral last weekend. The legacy left by this father to his five children, their families, and friends was a powerful reminder to us all to take the long-range view of short-term disappointment. Resilience, responsibility, resourcefulness, and godliness are not normally developed when things go our way. They are the fruit of properly interpreting the disappointments of life with eternity in mind.

Therefore, the priority for us and for our students, is not to eliminate hardship and disappointment but to learn to play “the long game” with the confidence described in Romans.

” And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28