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Eulogies for a gone soul; Fr Salifu writes in memory of Kenny Rogers

You’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them Know, when to walk away, and know when to run. You never count your money, when you’re sitting at the table. There’ll be time enough for counting, When the dealing is done.

On March 20th, 2020, one of my all-time favourite musicians died. Among his collection of songs, the Gambler is my favourite. It speaks to one of the biggest challenges people face in real life situations: knowing when to hold on, knowing when to fold up, knowing when to walk away and knowing when to run. We run when we are supposed to walk; we give up when we are supposed to hold on and hold on when we are to let go. Above all, we sometimes do the right things at the wrong time because as Gambler advises his companion, you never count your money while sitting at the table for there would be time enough to count it when the deal is done.

Objective truth is easy to know and determine when it is not set in concrete situations. In real life situation, things are not that simple – life is a complex realty; it’s not always white or black but sometimes there seem to be grey areas which requires us to adopt some “manoeuvring skills” while trying to avoid sin and stay right with God. Pope Francis captures it simple: “realities are greater than ideas”- and both must be in constant dialogue with the other (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 231).

This is where in catholic theology, discernment becomes key. Discernment is the ability to know the will of God in a concrete and complex situation. In scripture, the letter of John gives us a hint of what discernment is: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you will know the Spirit of God” (1 John 4:1-2a). Testing every spirit is not always easy but then we ask: what has the advice of a gambler to his companion got to do with the gift of discernment?

Well, I tend to believe that discernment can be described as knowing when to hold on, knowing when to fold up, knowing when to walk away and knowing when to run. Basically, knowing what to do, knowing when to do them, knowing how to do them and knowing when not to act. Because as stated earlier life is not that simple and sometimes because of noise and distractions, discerning God’s will for you in that concrete realty can be tough.

Discernment also entails knowing what to pursue and knowing when it is not worth pursuing. Sometimes we hold on to projects and relationships that are irrelevant – that we must let go in order to move on. When do let go, how do we let go and where do we go from there, are questions that sometimes scares us into remaining where we are even though it is time to move: time to fold up or time to walk away. So how do you know when its time to hold on and when its time to walk away? There are no clear cut answers and though people can advice you (based on how it worked out for them and how they think it might work out for you), you must know that you are unique and circumstances though may be similar can never be the same.

It’s similar to playing cards according to Kenny Rogers: though you may have the same hands as you did in a previous game, you cannot play your cards the same way as you did the last time because the circumstances are different and your opponent may be having different hands or may be playing a different style. Discernment is tough but necessary if we are to make it in life. And the agent of discernment cannot be anyone else but you. People can help, advice and give you some hints but eventually it is you: you have to listen to what God has for you and apply it. (cf. 1 Samuel 3:1-10).

Discernment suggests another virtue that is linked with discernment: prudence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1806) describes Prudence as “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.” We know that generosity is a virtue, but we must also know how to be generous, when to be generous and where to be generous. Jesus teaches us that prayer is important, but he teaches us how to pray (cf. Matt. 6:5-8): when to pray (Matt. 6: 6) and where to pray. Knowing a virtue is not enough but applying that virtue in complex situation is what makes us discerning Christians.

Every gambler knows that the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep. Cause every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser. And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep

In these final words we can find an ace to keep.


Source: Rev Fr Emmanuel Salifu

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