Have you ever played ‘Snakes and Ladders’ or ‘Chutes and Ladders’ as it is known in the United States?

It’s an ancient Indian board game where you role the dice to move from the bottom to the top of the board with the help of ladders or hindrance of snakes/chutes. If you land on a space at the bottom of a ladder, you triumphantly move up the board by several spaces. If you unfortunately hit the head of a snake, you slither back down the board keeping you further from winning.

It’s been said that success breeds success, yet when you get to the top of your game, what’s left?

Sometimes life can feel like a game of Snakes and Ladders. Things can go well in life and you can rise to the top, but sometimes things go wrong and suddenly life can take a downward turn. I climbed the ladder of success and chased my very own ‘American Dream’ to the USA at 18, experiencing my first taste of independence when travelling as part of a gap year. This prepared me for student life at university and by the end of the course, I achieved a first class honours degree and felt that nothing could hold me back.

However, I’ve also fallen down some chutes; I got diagnosed with cancer when I was 19, I spent nine months unable to secure a job after graduation, and I’ve struggled with my mental health.

It’s been said that success breeds success, yet when you get to the top of your game, what’s left? Businessman and speaker Stephen R. Covey once said:

It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the business of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.

What wall is your ladder up against and when you reach the top, what do you expect to find? Successful comedian and actor Jim Carrey said:

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.

Having the ‘American Dream’ of prosperity and success does not fully satisfy the needs of the heart. Something is missing. I believe that ‘something’ can be found in Jesus Christ.

Having the ‘American Dream’ of prosperity and success does not fully satisfy the needs of the heart.

America’s national anthem, ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, includes the lyrics “the land of the free and the home of the brave”, which makes me think of what it means to follow Jesus today – it is brave and it leads to real freedom. In some parts of the world, being a Christian means being oppressed, persecuted and even killed – that’s brave. In a society that doesn’t want a lot to do with Christianity and someone shares the hope they have in Jesus – that’s brave. Regarding freedom, Jesus has set us free from the power of sin and death, even if we are not physically free in this life. Wherever and whoever we are, as Christians, we are called to be free in Christ and serve others humbly in love (Galatians 5:13).

Despite the challenges of following Jesus, He promises to be with us (Matthew 28:20) and we are part of a wider community to help us along the way – the church. While the world prizes independence and autonomy above all else, the church is one body made up of many parts (believers) and each part needs the other (1 Corinthians 12:12). When one part of the body suffers, it all suffers and when one part rejoices, the rest rejoices (1 Corinthians 12:26). Far from being independent, the church is a place to be collectively vulnerable.

While the world prizes independence and autonomy above all else, the church is one body made up of many parts and each part needs the other.

Let’s celebrate freedom in Christ and bravely share this with those in our lives. In the eyes of the world, Jesus may have looked defeated on the cross – it appeared to be a chute to the bottom of the board. However, it was the greatest success of all time as He was raised to life and is now at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus may not have ascended to heaven via a ladder, but He did win the victory and we can celebrate this with the wider church family.

Board games can bring tensions at times and being part of a family of believers will have its ups and downs. However, teamwork makes the dream work, so, instead of seeking independence, let’s come alongside one another and cheer each other on in keeping the faith and finishing the race (2 Timothy 4:7).