One of my favorite board games when I was younger was the Game of Life. To play this game, each player begins with the same resources (a car and a predetermined amount of money) and then places his or her pawn on the game board to embark upon the path of life, with the goal of becoming the most “successful” player by the end.
As players progress throughout the game, their pawns reach spaces that celebrate various milestones: graduating from college, landing a job, getting married, buying a house, having children, and entering retirement. Though there are some rough patches, the path of life in this game is relatively smooth, and though there are variations in players’ net worth, most of their lives end up just about the same by the time they reach “Retirement.”
If only life was that easy! But the truth is that real life does not look like this. Most of the time, the path of life is not clear.
Young adults in particular are faced with many life-altering questions: “Should I go to college? If so, where? What career should I pursue? Should I get married? Where should I live?”
Often we have to try and fail, follow one path and then another, or take a longer road to find our way. Sometimes, unexpected circumstances shatter our plans for life. Sometimes, it seems that everyone except us has it all figured out or has everything that we want in life. The Game of Life is not the cause but rather an illustration of this idea of a perfect life, at least in American culture. However, when visions of what an “ideal” life should look like exist—and when our own lives inevitably do not match up to these ideals—trouble results. This leads to my concern: what is our response when real life doesn’t fit the “perfect” mold? What do we do when life is unexpected?
When I was in high school, I had a very clear idea of what I expected my life to look like. In many ways, it was similar to the one in the Game of Life: simple, clear-cut, and conventional. But in the past year, God’s intervention has caused me to completely discard my old plans, to set out on some things that are a little unusual, a little more difficult, and completely unexpected. And I have learned some things that I think can apply when facing unexpected circumstances in life.
First, you are not a failure even if your old dreams and your initial plans for life die away or when life does not unfold as you hoped. Sometimes these experiences are signs that we need to listen to God’s whisper, to see what He wants from us instead of fighting for our own way. Sometimes they are a reminder to not compare our lives with those of others but to look for the unique blessings in our own lives.
Second, your life does not have to look like everyone else’s. You may go to college, or you may not. And if you do, maybe you will go to one college…or two, and maybe you will change your major five times besides.
Maybe you will get married at twenty or thirty or forty or not at all. Maybe you will have kids; maybe you won’t. Maybe one or more of these things won’t be what you expected it would be. Maybe it will bring pain instead of joy. Maybe, just maybe, life will be just plain hard. And that is okay.
There is beauty in every story—exciting or not, conventional or not. Real life is not like the Game of Life. It is uniquely your own. It doesn’t have to be like everyone else’s.
So embrace the adventure that God has assigned to you, and thank Him for the twists and turns.