Going all in can be a scary, yet rewarding challenge

A friend of mine has just taken the standardized entrance examination for admission to law school. Thousands of people do this each year in America, so it should be no big deal, except that my friend is in her 60s.

She prepared for up to three hours per day most days for the past several months. She handled her other responsibilities and commitments graciously. When she is accepted, the hard work continues with at least three years of classes, reading and completing requirements to earn her law degree. Then it’s on to studying for the bar exam, yet another required hurdle just to begin the work of serving others in the practice of law.

Few people over age 50 would take on such a sizeable commitment. When they do, you can usually find them in media coverage, often in cap and gown as they participate in commencement exercises with students half and even a third of their age. While it may be daunting for my friend, she has made a simple yet profound decision: she’s all in.

An oft-used poker term, all in refers to a player betting everything, hoping that others will fold or have inferior hands, resulting in a dramatic win. If just one other participant is holding a better hand and stays in, that hand marks the end of the line for the second-best card combination.

Consider the life of faith in which one is all in, having surrendered completely to God’s love, mercy and grace. No chips withheld, this person hands everything over, owning nothing and acknowledging God’s ownership of all. That’s quite a contrarian view in a society of high-stakes material possessions and impressions.

Since there’s no partial surrender where God is concerned, all in is one of two alternatives available to His faithful. With our God-given freedom of choice, we can decide to hang onto a little or a lot. Hanging onto, and therefore relying on anything other than our complete and total faith and trust in God shows that we’re not ready to bet the farm on His divine goodness and mercy.

Of course all of this is easier said than done. The literature of positive mental attitude says that we must be willing to do whatever it takes. Once we withhold nothing in the pursuit of a goal or objective, we may have to endure hardship and struggle. Indeed, any worthwhile goal involves overcoming challenges and obstacles along the way. Only when we’ve decided that we’ll face and address any and all such challenges without the option of turning back do we discover that the objective we desire is closer than we ever realized.

So it is with God. He is well within our reach, omnipresent around and within us. Once we’re willing to do whatever it takes to hand over our very lives to Him, the moment that happens, only then do we realize how small our view of the horizon. We see that we’ve settled for so much less than the best. “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” we ask.

All in is a scary place, that’s why. Few people around us have ever gone all in, for God or anything else. Fear seems to rule, from a lack of confidence in one’s ability to the desperate fear that we’ll lose it all. The media reinforces the many things society says we should fear, spreading mistrust in everything from our personal relationships to the world economy.

With every moment we spend considering why we should be fearful of this and that, we lose a moment of enjoying the very best God offers to us each day of our lives.

Mother Teresa was all in. So was St. Francis of Assisi. Jesus was certainly all in, shedding blood and sacrificing His life for all humanity. If each of us had a close friend who put it all on the line for a dream, a belief, a sense of higher purpose, we would have a contemporary role model to follow. We can also read about those who have sacrificed everything for such a goal, seeing their struggles and setbacks along the way.

That’s the story of the Gospel, the good news of Christ’s arrival, ministry, death and resurrection. It’s the enduring tale of tales, filled with miracles and disappointments, desertion and forgiveness, rejection and acceptance. It’s the pattern we can follow to surrender ourselves completely, going all in to the will of our Father, as Jesus did with every action in His earthly life. Scary, yes. It’s also the best odds wager any of us will ever make.

John Carroll is president of Unlimited Performance, Inc. in Mount Pleasant. Contact him at jcaroll@uperform.com.