As you enter the room a cascade of lights and sounds draw you into the experience.  You drop a quarter into the slot, pull the plunger and send that metal ball into the fray.  For a moment it bounces back and forth at the top of the array, almost indecisive as to which path it wants to take down the course of waiting obstacles. Finally the moment comes when it begins to descend, bent on finding its way back home.   It bounces off bumpers one after another, randomly altering its direction each time in ways that are almost impossible to anticipate. With each bump the bells and whistles add to the mounting drama as this poor little metal ball seeks to find an exit from this nightmare of twists and turns.

But then it happens!  Finally the ball escapes the endless forest of bumpers and is suddenly sent on a direct course toward its freedom.  It picks up speed as it rushes down the open lane in the middle of the machine, seemingly headed straight for the exit. Just as it approaches the exit a flipper rudely greets it,  sending the ball back toward the nightmare it has just escaped.  Only this time it’s worse!  Instead of hitting one of those bumpers the ball is sent directly into a small hole where it is clamped down on both sides. After being held in place briefly it is then shot out like a cannon…… right back to those rude flippers, who promptly send the ball back up into the maze of bumpers to start the process over again.

It’s hard to keep track how many times this sequence is repeated, but eventually the time comes when the ball careens down the open lane of the machine toward those flippers once again……only this time it somehow avoids them and gains its escape from this sick obstacle course. That’s the life of a pinball….an exhilarating start followed by a lot of bumps, turns, and unexpected changes of direction.  It may win a few points along the way, but the journey to get to its desired destination can be rough.

I don’t think it takes too much imagination to see that our own lives are often just like that. As the pinball starts its journey propelled by the plunger, there are similar times in our lives of pure exhilaration where we find ourselves moving full speed ahead, taking in the sights and sounds all around us with wonder and awe.  Everything seems to be falling into place just as we wanted it to.  We are interacting with the right people, we’re facing little or no opposition, and our biggest dreams seem to lie right in front of us.  We find ourselves at the top of our game with very little to worry about.  We simply have to decide which path to choose next to reach the desired goal we’ve set. Like that pinball on the top of the machine we find ourselves thrilled by how fast we got here and anxious to run our course.  This is a carefree time where we can slow down a bit to consider our options for the future while still enjoying the journey we’ve taken to this point.

Inevitably the moment of decision came when we had to set the course for the road ahead.   It’s not the only option we had, but it’s the one we chose.  Though not totally unexpected,  it doesn’t take long before we encountered our first obstacle.  Something goes wrong, an unanticipated opponent arises,  our resources run low,  a health issues alters our course, circumstances change,  people disappoint us….BUMP, BUMP, BUMP!  Each bump sends us in a little different direction, though our goal stays the same.  We react, we respond, we adjust to these bumps as best as we can without losing our focus.  Each requires a bit of time, a piece of our attention, and expenditure of our limited amount of energy.  But like that pinball, the destination is still in our mind…..we just have to figure out how to take our lumps and keep moving forward.

At other times we find ourselves seemingly stuck in a hole where nothing seems to be happening.  We feel like we’re spinning our wheels, treading water, or riding an exercise bike.  There’s no shortage of activity going on all around us, but we’re not moving.  We don’t quite know how to break out of the hold of the things that are holding us back.  We sense our goals haven’t changed, but we can’t see that we’re making any progress.  We seem to be waiting for something to set us free so we can begin moving again.

Unfortunately, often when that finally does happen we don’t just begin to move again……things seem to careen almost uncontrollably.  We may be moving in the right direction, but we really don’t know. We sort of hang on for dear life and hope we have our “ducks in a row” when we get there.  It’s nice to feel “unstuck” and sense we’re making some progress again, but honestly we’re not very comfortable with the unknown nature of our journey at such times.

And then there’s the “flippers”–those things that knock us complete backwards.  They come out of nowhere. The often send us reeling, forcing us back in to a series of obstacles that cause more delays, inflict more pain, create more confusion, and sap more energy from us.  These new obstacles sidetrack our efforts, often bringing a sense of déjà vu because we’ve already handled many of these same things before.  It’s a rerun we certainly could have done without.

Don’t get me wrong…..I’m not trying to anthropomorphize a metal pinball as true representation of our daily lives, but you have to admit there are some similarities. I’ve know the thrill that comes at the start of a new venture and been able to enjoy the scenes along the way.  I’ve experienced my share of obstacles that have changed my life direction even though my goals stayed the same.  I know what it feels like to get stuck in a place where nothing seems to be happening and I find myself wondering how in the world things will ever change. And, like you,  I’ve been bounced around a bit and flipped back into a new series of issues that I had to navigate before I could even think about getting back to my desired journey.

The thing is, with all the pinball games I’ve played in the past, that little ball eventually always finds its way home.  Despite my personal efforts to flip it back into “play”, that ball always escapes and reaches its destiny.  It absorbs all the delays, detours, and disappointments to complete its course. There’s something about that truth that is compelling to me.

I don’t normally enjoy the obstacles that have blocked my path, but I can look back now and see how God used them to mold and shape me.  I see how He allowed those things to change my direction,  teach me a lesson, and protect me from something worse.  Being bounced around has at times been painful, and I’ve certainly complained perhaps a bit more than I should.  But down deep inside I think I’ve always known that God would never allow anything to come into my life that He and I couldn’t handle together.

In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul acknowledged the truth of that lesson. He said, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;  perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).  Like that pinball, we have a course to run and a goal worthy of our best efforts.  We will have to endure a few bumps along the way, overcome some unexpected obstacles, and deal with some perplexing issues.  There will be grumpy people, unfair circumstances, difficult problems and feelings of insecurity, isolation and loneliness.  Thankfully, we don’t have to journey forward alone.  We are surrounded by family and friends, spiritual examples, and worthy advisors to assist us along the way. And don’t forget Jesus promised to “never leave us or forsake us”!   Yes, we may feel like a pinball at times…….BUT THAT’S LIFE.  The key is to never give up and keep moving toward our ultimate goal.  If we will,  I promise you we’re going to make it!!

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