By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery
On a whim while on holidays this summer, I decided to play a round of golf. Being a glutton for punishment, I went out and played another round the next week.
It was the first time in at least eight years that I had swung a golf club and the results were exactly what one would expect. I lost six brand new golf balls. More than once I had to dangle precariously on the edge of a pond to retrieve what would have been a seventh lost golf ball. My playing partners managed to hide the laughter that I’m sure was screaming to burst forth. They didn’t reject my notion that I should send the golf course a bill for aerating their land.
Both times however, there was one or two reasonably good shots. My proudest moment in the two rounds will show my need to be honest as well. I was enthralled by a seven iron I hit from about 140 yards out that flew up and over the hill approaching the green and disappeared from sight. As I strode to the green my chest puffed with pride to see that I was about eight feet from the hole, looking over a birdie putt.
Now the honesty. Before I hit the seven iron, I used my best club, the foot wedge, to get myself out from between two trees and away from a shot that would have to be played no more than 10 or 15 yards to get by said trees (Yes I hit the foot wedge a good distance!) More honesty – I missed the putt.
So, now I go from the sublime to the ridiculous. This adventure reminded me of faith (and not just because I was constantly asking for Divine help and guidance while on the links.) Let me point to some connections.
First, faith, like golf, is basically good for you. Whether the exercise is spiritual or physical or a combination of both, there is great value. Golf, like faith, takes a lot of patience, a lot of practice, is best shared with friends and helps to build relationships. Like golf, some people are better at some aspects of faith than others. (I have already shared evidence of my foot wedge expertise.) Not everyone can preach a sermon, or speak about their belief on a public stage. But those people may have abilities in pastoral care that the preachers don’t.
But it seems to me the most important aspect the two have in common is that keeping score is the wrong idea. Now, I’m sure some of our best practitioners of the links just screamed, “Are you nuts! Keeping score is everything!” Well maybe, just maybe, I made that statement for effect! I stand by it, but I was trying to be a little devious to make my point. Keeping score isn’t the right idea in golf or in faith. What is crucial is giving your best effort. If I play golf or practice my faith once or twice every eight years, I probably won’t see significant growth. If I put in the work, practice, study, learn, get fit (either physically or spiritually), then my abilities will no doubt improve.
Many years ago, I played golf weekly during the season. My game improved steadily. Oh, there were days in the pond and the traps, rounds which featured prominent three and four putt holes and rarely did a game go by that I didn’t manage to give my partners a belly laugh or two. But I hope it is accurate to say that my competition was always myself. It was always about working on my swing, focusing more while putting, constant reminders to keep my head down and swing through. I was never tour ready but I improved and felt good about my efforts and the efforts of those I played the game with. As I played better, I found that I was more observant when a fellow player made a spectacular shot, a great putt or a tricky sand save. As I learned more, I enjoyed the game more (for the most part).
I think these are lessons of faith. We strive to be the best that we can be, but we do it as part of a community, a team if you will. We help others on the course as we help others in life.
If you happen to read this and you play golf once or twice a week and go to church once or twice a decade, let me know how my comparison works for you?
Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James’ Westminster, London.