The Yahtzee Lesson

This summer our family spent some time down at Fish Lake. One of the mornings, when the kids were duly occupied with either cousins or the literary Harry Potter, I found myself alone. Being in the mood for a little diversion (since Erik was home working and I had no cell reception within the campground with which to call and interrupt him to explore “life, the universe, and everything”–which is really my favorite diversion), I pulled out Yahtzee.

I like the game. Having three chances to shake the dice and strategize about the most likely scenario for earning points, I often manage my risks and do fairly well. Having no control over the dice, though, keeps the game unpredictable and interesting.

Interesting, that is, as long as I am at least occasionally graced with a great roll. For some inexplicable reason, NONE was coming that morning. I could not believe how poorly I was doing. Despite my best theories and most elaborate shaking schemes, I repeatedly missed the necessary runs or sets to earn a respectable amount of points. No upper section bonus. No large straight. No full house. Don’t even ask about a Yahtzee. I finished with a score of 131. Pathetic!

Well, that wasn’t any fun. So, hoping to get the happy endorphins rolling again (assuming, as I was, that I would of course do better this time), I quickly started a new round. I do not exaggerate when I say (and In Case You Didn’t Know, I’m quite incapable of lying–at least 99.9% of the time), that I honestly believe that I was well on my way to receiving the absolute worst score anyone has ever earned in a completed round of intending-to-winYahtzee. What the heck?!

As the nightmare was happening, I found myself trying to will the dice (in a sort of self-imposed trial of faith) to produce the numbers I was desperately needing. It didn’t work! Nothing worked! Realizing that my final score was likely to be even worse than the previous round, I started to panic. (Note: Only slightly hyperbolic language here.)

Now you non-type-A personalities may not understand why I was getting so emotionally involved in the game. It’s only a game, you may be thinking. Yeah, right! Just like it’s only a song for the American Idol aspirant who is blowing it, utterly blowing it on the final contest of the season–for some inexplicable, perverse reason for which she cannot account given that she’d prepared fully (I’m talking vocally, emotionally, mentally, wardrobally) to nail the song, wow the audience, and win the glory. While I concede it might not appear that the stakes of my Yahtzee game were anywhere near those of a final song on the final night of American Idol, I will try to explain their similarity for me.

For a perfectionist personality, expecting oneself to do well and then doing well is the name of the game. Anticipating-and-then-accomplishing provides immediate-though-temporary evidence that one is worthwhile. Perverse, isn’t it? So whether it’s a second game of Yahtzee or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on American Idol, the mental and emotional stakes are very high when a person depends on successful outcomes to validate one’s worth and importance.

It was this state of reality that led to me sobbing uncontrollably for over an hour! Not while at Fish Lake, not during this game of Yahtzee, but around the age of 15–after messing up on a self-accompanied vocal solo in a sacrament meeting featuring our stake’s youth activities committee.

I had prepared to play the song from memory but, unfortunately, I messed up and lost the flow of the memorized piece.  An awkward silence ensued as I scavenged my brain trying to come up with any feasible place where I could resume my song. (A day-old cadaver would have a hard time feeling as mortified as I did in that morgue-like silence!) Somehow or other I started again, finished the piece, and then dragged myself back to my seat in the choir—only to endure the torture of public tears during the duration of the meeting.

When my dad came to pick me up and I had the privacy of the car to keep me from public view, the small semblance of self-imposed composure I’d forced upon myself during the meeting gave way to Sobs! Heaving chest! Convulsive breaths! The Works!–for over an hour. I had completely humiliated myself–I believed–in front of not only an entire ward but, more importantly, in front of my peers on the activities committee. My externally-oriented personality judged that I was a worthless failure—and I reeled in panic and pain.

* * *

Now, Twenty-five years later, a crazy, double whammy of epic Yahtzee failures was again threatening my sense of self. With only a few turns left in that second game—minute opportunities for my Importance to reveal itself via a good score or two–I was suddenly graced by Wisdom:

Why are you are getting emotionally involved in this game? The outcome has nothing to do with your worth.”

Moved, I paused to consider that thought. Of course it’s true, I mused. Sometimes people win, sometimes people lose, but does that mean they’re any more or less valuable because of it? No! Silly of me to have forgotten. Grateful for the reminder, I smiled and rolled the dice—curious, as an observer is curious, to see what Life was Going to Deal Me this time.

Five sixes landed face-up in the box. One single shake: a Yahtzee of sixes?!!

A shiver ran through my body. Holy Cow! This is a transcendent experience! What does it mean?!

I became (and continue to be) deliberate in my analysis. When I gave up my emotional involvement in the game, I was given the highest possible roll—like a hug from on high. But, ironically, I couldn’t use it in its ideal spot–the Yahtzee field –since I’d already zeroed that out. Was this a reminder that Scores and Success don’t determine my Soul Significance? But since the 6’s slot was still open, I experienced a “Redemption”: 30 points there to make possible my attaining the upper bonus!

All this was amazing, fascinating, otherworldly! It suggests to me that Grace comes when and where it will, and that I can Know Love regardless of my success or failure. (Or Something Along Those Lines.)  I’m very grateful for my Yahtzee lesson, but if I forget it again (as I undoubtedly will), Grace will provide!

About Shaunalei

Sometimes working toward peace is a serious business; other times it's just a whole lot of fun. I created "Peace by Piece" as a storehouse for some of my thoughts. (Aren't you lucky to have found them?!) Enjoy!
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