There are times when you know you’re being played, but it matters not a whit.
In fact, the “playing” stirs an energy deep inside…and morphs into something very much like joy.
So it was this past week when Granddaughter Hannah arrived at our place for a summer sleep-over, and promptly announced her “stretch goal” for our time together: 17 games.
The target number made perfect sense to her eight-year-old consciousness: Since we’d played 7 board games the last time she spent the night, naturally we’d have to up the ante to 17 this time around.
It’s a high compliment, this goal, because even at her tender age Hannah is a board-game connoisseur. She enjoys engaging in contest, quickly masters the rules – and has even invented a board game or two of her own in recent years. She knows, too, that her grandparents own a veritable treasure trove of titles, both familiar and obscure – collected during their 40-plus years of family life.
Agreeing to the 17-game goal didn’t seem all that onerous at first. Surely, once we’d gotten to 8 or 10 games played, her ambition would wane…and we could count any progress past “7” as a win for the three of us, all around.
But not so fast, Gramps.
Once the total climbed to 11 or 12, Hannah doubled-down on her target number. Somehow, some way, we were going to get to 17, she insisted. And they all had to be legitimate plays: That short-circuited game of checkers just before lunch really didn’t count toward the total.
Toward the end of our quest, it dawned on me that Granddaughter had crafted a meta-game of sorts: A game above the games, one that gave all the games a higher level of meaning. Yes, we ultimately got to 17. And in the process, we’d acquired something much more precious: a story of love-and-togetherness that will last us the rest our lives.
I was reminded of Hannah’s game-goal insistence when I reflected on the mini-parable Jesus shares in today’s Gospel reading. “Teach us to pray,” the disciples asked him. And part of his response includes this odd tale:
“Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’
I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.
“God is like that,” Jesus seems to be saying. “Keep bugging your heavenly Father, and you’ll eventually get what you want.”
But is that really the point Jesus desires to make here? Or is he rather engaging us in something like a meta-game?
Notice how Jesus starts out by describing God’s providence as something rather ordinary and pedestrian – something even a tired and crabby and sinful man would do on behalf of his friend.
But by the end of this passage, Jesus shows us an entirely different side of the Holy One. If we persist in prayer, if we work on building our story of love-and-togetherness with God, this is what we win:
“If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
Imagine that: the “daily bread” we ask for…winds up being something more like the breath of the Spirit than a biscuit. Somehow, through prayer, we are invited to participate deeply in the very being of God.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.