Lately my five year old son has been interested in learning how to play chess. I do not remember where he first saw chess being played or how he decided he wanted to learn how to play, but I have been happy to teach him. It is an exercise in patience, of course, because at five he does not necessarily understand all of the intricacies of the game, but he has come close to mastering the names of the various pieces and how they can move. Turns out, he even “taught” my wife how to play one day!
Chess is a fantastic game. It requires real concentration, attention and planning. It requires thinking ahead and planning for the future, asking questions and anticipating their answers. What will this move enable me to do next time? What am I trying to accomplish by trying to move this piece? But a good chess player must also be able to adjust his plans in response to his opponent’s moves. Before any of this is even possible, though, you have to know how to play the game! It would make no sense for me to try to teach my son about strategy without first telling him the names of the pieces and what they can and cannot do. Then he can learn how to use the pieces wisely to accomplish his goals while protecting his king. A wise chess player knows how to use each of the pieces together in order to win; it would be difficult if not impossible to win a chess game using only one piece. Chess is also very unique in that any player can always improve. It is not simply a matter of learning how to play, and that’s it. Each time the game is played, the players are confronted with different scenarios, depending on the opponent and his strategy.
In many ways, life is like chess. Life is always changing. We can never know for sure what lies ahead or what obstacles may be in our way. Even our best-laid plans may be impacted by the unexpected circumstances of life. But we can learn the basics of responsibility, honesty, courage, determination and dedication. We can learn how to respond appropriately when we come upon something unexpected. A wise chess player does not overreact or give up when his opponent makes an unexpected move that derails his plans. Likewise, a responsible adult does not overreact or give up when things do not go his way or when life just doesn’t seem fair.
A wise chess player also looks to see what the consequences of a certain move would be before he makes the move. If he just moves pieces here and there without looking to see what the moves might allow his opponent to do, he will be defeated easily. In life, we have to look to see how our actions will impact others, as well as what the consequences of our actions will be. Responsible adults think before they act.
The fact that we never know what life will send our way does not mean, of course, that we do not make plans. It means that we make plans and learn to be flexible when things do not go as planned. We pray, seek the Lord’s guidance and direction, and plan accordingly, but we adapt when things do not adhere to our plan. Furthermore, just like a good chess player would never use only one piece, we learn that it is almost impossible to make it through life “on our own,” never asking for or accepting help from others. Finally, mature adults don’t settle for mediocre, average or “okay.” All of us have room for improvement. We may know how to play the game, and we may even do it well, but there is always room for improvement.