This has to be one of the simplest games ever invented. You spin, move your token, and if you land on good action (like rescuing a kitten from a tree), you go up the ladder; if you land on a bad action (like stealing a cookie), you go down the chute.
I hadn’t played this game in decades, until my kids spotted it in the closet at my parents’ house and wanted to get it out. So lately, we’ve had a few Chutes and Ladders tournaments chez Moyer. I will admit that it’s not the most intellectually gripping game — perhaps only CandyLand exceeds it for its totally stultifying lack of strategy — but it is strangely addictive.
And I’m grateful for it, because it has given me a little spiritual food for thought.
As my summer vacation gets under way, and now that I’m not spending hours teaching, planning, and grading, I find I’m thinking more deeply about my daily habits. What are the things I do that make me grounded, more mindful, more healthy? What are the things I do that don’t?
The whole point of the game is that our actions have consequences. Obviously, this is a point that kids need to learn — you lie to your teacher, you miss recess; you help your mom without asking, she rewards you with a huge hug and maybe an extra dessert. But I’m embarrassed to admit that at the age of 43, I still struggle at times to accept that my actions lead to effects that I may not want. I often know what I should do to reach my goals, but — due to inertia, or lethargy, or stubbornness — I choose the opposite.
What does my own personal Chutes and Ladders board look like? Well, much like this:
Spend too much time on social media rather than reading a good book: slide down the chute and go to bed with the niggling feeling that I’ve wasted the evening.
Get up early to exercise: climb the ladder and feel healthy and energized all day
Stay up way too late watching Netflix: slide down the chute and feel like death warmed over the next morning
Make time for writing or prayer, or writing AS prayer: climb the ladder and stay in touch with the core of who I am (with the added bonus of finding a gem of an idea for the next writing project)
I know, of course, that life isn’t quite as easy as a board game. There are plenty of situations where I make thoughtful choices and end up taking bad tumbles just the same, through no fault of my own. Likewise, we’ve probably all had that experience of suddenly getting a huge blessing or gift that we’ve done nothing to earn (in the biz, I believe that’s called “grace”). Sometimes, there is no cause/effect we can control. Period.
But often there is, especially when it comes to the daily routines and habits that define me. And that’s why this summer, with a lot more free and thinking time on my hands, I’m going to do some extra discernment about which things lift me up, and which drag me down.
Because don’t we all want that good feeling of rescuing the kitten from the tree and climbing up to the sky, our new best friend by our side?