Holy High-Low

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Default image

In poker there is a game called “High-Low” that gives two different people a chance to win the pot. Both the person with the highest hand and the person with the lowest hand split the winnings. On rare occasions, a person can have both the highest hand and the lowest hand (usually in the form of a 5-high straight, in case you were wondering), and that person rakes in all the chips.

For a while now, my family has been playing a kind of communication game that we call “high-low” at dinnertime. Every person has to check in and tell his or her “high” of the day and “low” of the day while we eat together. Those “high-lows” become the center of our sharing what happened in our days. Very often the “high” is “right now, eating and being together. And very often, the low is something different for each of us—and frankly, most of the time, we would rather not even talk about it.

It is tempting to think that the life of Christian faith is supposed to be nothing but “highs.” And if a “low” hand does appear, well, the only way to make it a “winner” is to pretend that it doesn’t affect us. We can be tempted to think the Bible even teaches this. In his earliest letter that we have, St. Paul writes to a fledgling group of Christians in Thessalonica, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thes. 5:16-18, NLT).

See, there it is. Be joyful. Pray. Be thankful. See. Nothing but good things. All “high” hands here. Or are they? Did you notice?

  • “Always be joyful"—not just when things are joyous.
  • "Never stop praying"—even in the midst of doubt and despair.
  • "Be thankful in all circumstances"—including thankless ones!

In other words, you have to pay attention to the “lows” as well as the “highs” in order to fulfill God’s will for you.

Technically, this spiritual poker game is called the spiritual discipline of examen, an end-of-the day reflection developed by St. Ignatius. And it is the very center of my prayer life. At the end of the day as I lie in bed, I pray, “Lord, help me look back on this day and see it clearly.”

Then I ask myself, What were the “consolations” of this day? When was I energized, alive, authentic, real, faithful, and responsive to the Spirit? When was I joyful, spontaneous, and open to others around me? When did I represent Christ well?

What were the “desolations” of this day? When was I drained and when did the day feel like drudgery? When did I feel angry, resentful, insecure, and defensive? When was I closed off to the Spirit and focused on my flesh? When did I “push” my agenda for the day? When did I cling to my “false self”?

And that awareness alone helps me be more focused on where I want to put my passion, energy, time, and resources. I pray prayers of thanks and confession, committing myself into God’s hands for sleeping and the next day.

This simple prayerful attentiveness brings all of life into focus every night in all of its mixed-bag muddledness. Every night I look back and see the way both moments of grace and challenges of the flesh. I see the miracles of ordinary living—like my teenager taking out the trash without being asked or the taste of a perfect summer tomato. These miracles are mixed in with moments of heartache and despair. And I realize how very often in life, all I can control is my awareness and my attitude, to pay attention to what is and respond according to the person that God truly made me to be.