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Joy in Losing

Observe this picture of our family playing on the giant chessboard at Crossroads Mall. You may have thought chess was a 2-person game. Not necessarily! It’s true, that two of the six people are watchers. But in addition to the two usual combatants, there is a soldier lying on the field of battle (possibly injured) and a general marching by (Hup! 2 3 4!) reviewing the line-up of black pawns.


What you might not notice at first glance, is that my son Mark, playing black, has only pawns to guard his king. No bishops, no knights, no rooks, no queen. This is an example of handicapping. He’s given up 7 critical pieces from the start. Why? To give his four-year-old son a chance at winning.


And that increases his own chance of losing. But, I can safely say, that for my son, there’s more joy in losing than winning this particular game.


This was a teachable moment for me. Growing up, I didn’t see any joy in losing at chess. My dad taught me to play chess when I was in grade school. He explained how the game worked, demonstrated openings and pitfalls and strategies. And we played many, many games. I lost every single one except one game of Pawns and Rooks that we played to a draw. There was no joy in losing. I gave up the game. Even in adulthood, someone would say, “Let’s play chess,” and I would shake my head, “Nope.”


It’s true that losing at chess ought to be felt as a minor loss, though it can be hard for a child to do so. Jesus has major losses in mind when He says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Can I learn about this strange loss mentality by losing at chess? I think so. Love gives up its own wins and lays its life down for others. Jesus set the supreme example, and asks me to follow it, giving up getting my own way and many kinds of wins - arguments, preferences, wealth, status, reputation - for His sake and to promote His objectives of giving Him and His gospel to others.


After observing Mark’s approach, I was emboldened to also play with my four-year-old grandson. I also started with only pawns and king. And I did surprisingly well. I actually won. Elation! (Ridiculous, right?) I soon moved on to the joy of losing. Mark coached his son, advising him to get behind my line of pawns and attack aggressively. My grandson began systematically obliterating my pawns and checking my king. Voila! Checkmate was happening quicker and quicker and I was losing again and again. Hurray! Hurray that my grandson is learning to play chess!


Now I have a way to play with my older grandsons too. We set up the board and I ask “what would you like my handicap to be?” They specify - “no rooks” or “just knights” or whatever. And one or the other of us wins and one or the other of us loses. For the next game, we can adjust the handicap, or not. We can give each other hints or take-backs, or not.


The joy of fellowship with my grandsons exceeds the pain in losing at chess. A small but valuable lesson. They are also learning to lose in this small way, without falling apart. They may be better prepared for the call of Jesus by living amicably with wins and losses. For Jesus is our big Win, that eclipses all losses.

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