I was reconnecting with a friend from Atlanta earlier this week. She was asking what my family and I had been doing in Charlotte these days. Small talk, of sorts. My friend and I were connected through the triathlon community for the many years that I lived in Atlanta before moving to Charlotte in 2014. Triathlon used to be a huge part of my life. I was single but not really into the bar scene or the Buckhead night life. No, instead I developed many lasting friendships though my training and competing in swimming, cycling and running events.
My friend asked, “So have you mapped out your triathlon racing calendar for this year yet?” Now in earlier times, I would have promptly gone over all my races, maybe 7 or 8 in a given season. I would have outlined the different distances including sprints, Olympic distances and perhaps even a half-iron distance. But nowadays, things have changed for me.
“No, actually,” I replied to my friend. “These days, you can mostly find me on the golf course. If I’m lucky I get in 9 holes a couple days a week….and even 18 holes in on a weekend.” My friend chuckled but simply finished the conversation by saying…”Good for you, Mike. Good for you.”
In preparing for this week’s devotional, I did a little research on how “golf”, my new found passion, might say something about someone from the spiritual perspective as well. What are the metaphors for walking 18 holes on a golf course and walking many days of Christian life?
The Reverend Billy Graham is a self-professed lover of the game of golf as well. In one interview, Rev. Graham explained:
“There’s no game which opens a man’s personal life like golf. It illustrates an individual’s honesty, integrity, intelligence, and character. Golf demands control of temper, concentration, and integrity. You can tell a lot about a person by playing a round of golf with him. In golf, you cope with the same troubles as you do in life.”
I couldn’t agree more with that statement.
I’ve got about 2 years of golfing under my belt since moving to Charlotte. And while my skills are on a slower path to improvement than I might prefer, my awareness and appreciation while playing has opened up my eyes to some rather interesting parallels to my Christian faith. Here’s a couple lessons I’ve learned from golf, that align closely to that faith.
First, you can still make a decent score on a Par 5 hole, even if your tee shot from the beginning is awful. Most of the holes on a golf course are a Par 4, meaning the hole is designed to be completed in four strokes. In a given 18-hole course, you might find four Par 3 holes and four Par 5 holes, as well. The Par 5 holes are much longer and I am constantly having to remind myself to focus on using the 5 strokes “planned” for that hole. If I have a bad tee short that hooks or slices on the Par 5, I can still make up for it with a decent second and third shots on the same hole. Likewise, God doesn’t throw us out the door if our beginnings in life are errant, slicing or hooking away to either side of the desired path. Like golf, if we collect ourselves, and keep our head in the game, then end results can be magically put back in the proper place.
Next, walking around a beautiful golf course can remind us of God’s gifts all around us. This past week, I witnessed hawks flying, meticulously manicured grass fairways & greens, and gentle breezes on an otherwise hot afternoon. The breeze especially, made me wonder later if God was providing nature’s air-conditioning so I’d appreciate the beauty of the course even longer. Author Ken Garfield writes in his biography of Rev. Billy Graham, Billy Graham: A Life in Pictures,…
“Somebody once asked me, ‘Will there be golf courses in heaven?’ I said, ‘If they’re necessary for our happiness, they’ll be there.”
Rev. Graham seems to describe the perfect blend of nature’s beauty and love of sport….through golf. Why wouldn’t this also be in heaven?
Still another parallel is the process of “lining up a putt”. Have you ever seen professional golfers pick up their ball from the green once they’ve marked the spot? You might then notice the golfer bend over and slowly line up the ball with the intended hole several yards or feet across the green. The next time you pick up a golf ball, spin the ball around and you’ll generally fine a straight line or arrow on the ball. Golfers use that line as the aiming point to the hole. Golf coaches say if you keep your head down, and if the ball is correctly lined up to the hole, then you have a better chance of hitting the mark, so to speak.
The path to the hole across the green is very narrow. Any deviations from the correct path and the ball won’t fall into the cup. I’m reminded of a verse from Matthew, Chapter 7, verses 13-14:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” MT 7:13-14
Just as in golf, our Christian walk is only successful if we take the correct and narrow path.
Finally, when it comes to golfing role models for their sports performance, my thoughts tend to gravitate to some of the game’s greats like Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, and Michelson. But far off the greens and fairways, when it comes to golfers I admire, one name stands out from all others to me: Jordan Spieth. He’s a great golfer; still, in my opinion, he’s an even better Christian. One author wrote of Spieth:
Spieth’s actions reflect his Faith. His very life is a testimony. He doesn’t brag. He loves God. He goes to Bible study. He honors his family. He lives humbly. He encourages and supports those around him.
Despite the thousands of adoring fans, Spieth knows who alone is worthy of adoration — his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. While listening to Jordan Spieth’s inspiring story, I just couldn’t help but think of James 4:10, which reads,
“Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” JAMES 4:10
I may have one or two triathlons left in the tank in the next year or two. Then again, maybe not. I do know that golfing will take more and more of my focus. And while my skills will (hopefully) get better over time, I know my focus on this new passion will likewise keep me grounded on Christianity. Paying attention to the game and the arena it entails, are continuous reminders to me of what matters most.
My prayer today is for the golfer in all of us…whether you claim to be one or not….that your fairways remain wide, your greens remain flat, and that every club swing puts you nearer to the cup. In God’s eyes, I believe he doesn’t keep score on your swings. But he loves it when you have some measurement of keeping on par with your Christian faith.