When Life Falls Apart: A Lesson from the Game of Jenga
When life falls apart, it can be a frustrating but fruitful time of reexamining what your life is built on.
Ever played Jenga? The more fragmented and extended the stack of blocks gets, the more fragile it becomes. The tower sways with every attempt to make it taller. Then there is that panic moment when gravity takes over and it starts to fall. You can try to grab the stack with both hands to try and keep it from falling (but, of course, that’s against the rules). And besides, there aren’t enough fingers to hold it and fix it. Letting go means everything falls noisily to the table.
I’m convinced some of us live life in a similar moment every single day.
Like a game of Jenga, we can end up depleting our spiritual core by trying to extend ourselves as high as we can possibly go. Perhaps we’re trying to climb the success ladder ever higher, chase thrills to the point of addiction, or spend whatever life it takes to get more zeroes on the paycheck. Whatever method we use to rise higher in life, it’s easy to sacrifice crucial planks in the process. Even as the tower can look more and more impressive, the core becomes more and more fragile. When we become aware that we’re depleted and overextended, we find ways of coping and controlling—to try to keep everything from crumbling.
“When we become aware that we’re depleted and overextended, we find ways of coping and controlling—to try to keep everything from crumbling.”
This is part of what makes Jesus’ Beatitudes so confusing to read. It’s almost as if they start at the moment where someone’s life has crumbled—and somehow it’s not a bad thing. It’s somehow a “blessed” thing. The Beatitudes seem to teach that, when it comes to the moment we’ve feared for ages would be our destruction, God can actually use (even intend) this crumbling to be the beginning of a new creation.
- Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and we nod our heads, not really understanding.
- Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn,” and we’re confused. Where is the blessing in sadness?
- Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek,” but we think meek is weak. So, while we politely smile, already there’s some pushback in our own hearts about what Jesus is getting at.
- Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and our ears perk up a bit because this sounds like something we could align with. I want to be right with God. I want the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ Jesus. But when I’ve glossed over the first three beatitudes, not really understanding or buying into the truth of them, I end up missing the primary reason and motivation for my hunger and thirst.
The truth is, I need to come to God in utter helplessness and poverty of heart, broken in spirit, mourning my own condition and the state of the world around me, and crying out to him in deep humility for food and drink that will ultimately satisfy my greatest need. That is, realizing that I am not enough, I cry out for things to be made right through King Jesus.
“Realizing that I am not enough, I cry out for things to be made right through King Jesus.”
And sometimes the only way I will get to that point of complete surrender and dependence on God is for things to crumble in my own life. The loss of a loved one. Loss of income or independence. Realizing the gravity of my own sin and how it affects others. Releasing my need to control people, circumstances, or future outcomes, and giving them over to Jesus every single day. I don’t know what your wall is, but I’ll bet you’ve hit one or two.
Hitting a wall in our walk through life is frustrating. For some church goers, it’s disillusioning enough for some to walk away from God altogether. But for others of us, it’s the only way he gets our attention enough that we stop—really stop—and ask him what he has in mind. When things crumble, it’s time to reevaluate and let him be the one who rebuilds.
Some people say that the trials and sufferings of life are meant to teach us something. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers says this is too simplistic. He maintains that adversity is primarily meant to help us unlearn a few things.
“There are times when God will allow suffering, adversity, even tragedy in order to purge us of false ideas about Him.”
Contrary to some of today’s motivational-driven preaching that focuses on “breakthroughs” and “victory,” there are times when God will allow suffering, adversity, even tragedy in order to purge us of false ideas about him. According to a 16th century church leader known as John of the Cross (you should look him up!), God will use present circumstances (whether good or difficult) to expose our idols and false senses of security so that we repent and surrender to him. This means letting go of so many things…
- Being judgmental and impatient with the faults of others
- Discontentedness by which we never find peace in the present
- Taking more pleasure in the blessings of God than in God himself
- Becoming easily irritated and lashing out against people who annoy us
- Resisting the grace of God and leaning on our own good works
- Spiritually comparing ourselves to others in envy and arrogance
- Running from what is difficult
Take a look over that list again. Let’s say you’re dealing with a wall in your spiritual life—a barrier that seems to make God feel distant. If so, then perhaps you should stop making it the object of focus (e.g., trying to get through it, over it, around it). Rather, sit quietly and ask God to reveal more of himself to you. He’s preparing you for the next steps of your journey with him.
“He’s preparing you for the next steps of your journey with him.”
It isn’t first and foremost about what he wants you to do. He wants you to know him more deeply, and only through that are you able to reflect more of him to our world. We won’t get the fruits if we don’t prioritize our rootedness in him. That’s how the core gets rebuilt in a way that won’t crumble.
And to let him do that, sometimes we have to let go of the tottering tower we’ve built for ourselves. In letting that house of cards come down, he can start the process of rebuilding a house on the Rock.