“We say we long for intimacy with God and others, and yet we structure our lives so that this becomes impossible. One might think we are avoiding intimacy, that maybe we really like our finely managed lives just the way they are.” ~ Mark Galli
“In the developing world there is an epidemic of poverty, in the West an epidemic of loneliness.” ~ Mother Teresa
Today is known by a variety of names: “Maundy Thursday” (Church of England), “Holy Thursday” (Catholic and Methodist), “Covenant Thursday” (Coptic), “Great and Holy Thursday” (Eastern Orthodox), and “Thursday of Mysteries” (Syriac Orthodox). If I were to give today another name, it would be “Communion Thursday.” On this day in Holy Week, Jesus led his disciples in the Last Supper, a meal many traditions call “Communion”, but our Lord extended communion beyond this event. He prayed fervently for his disciples and all of us as well (John 17). Then he retreated to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he told Peter, James and John, “Remain here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). On this day the Son of God knew how desperately he needed to be with his Father, and wanted to be with his friends.
I picked up the game in earnest later in life than I would have if I could start over knowing what I do now. In that way, golf is not unlike a great many things in retrospect– I would choose Boy Scouts over Little League, slide rule over girls, and God’s will over my own ego. I don’t remember exactly when or where I first saw the game played, but think it was at the old Port Groves Golf Course affectionately known by locals as “the Pea Patch.” A few old men hit the course each morning and spent the rest of the day in the makeshift clubhouse playing poker and drinking beer. We termed it a pea patch because it more resembled a garden or abandoned field than it did a place to play the royal game. Greens varied little from fairways and fairways were only slightly better mown than the San Augustine growing wildly in “the rough.” The only elevation on the course came from the slight rise on the edge of the bar ditch creating the course’s border next to Monroe Street in The Groves.
My father bought a starter set of Northwestern clubs for me and another for himself at Christmas. We played our first round a few days later, and it was so cold that our bargain balls cracked and a few even shattered when struck. I survived the arctic eighteen and started playing regularly at the old Pleasure Island course owned by the City of Port Arthur, playing with my best friend after school and every spare minute when we could escape. He was good; I wasn’t, but loved every minute on the course and couldn’t get enough. In fact, the only time I was ever summoned to the principal’s office was for skipping last period my senior year of high school in order to go play golf. I purchased a new set of clubs from J. C. Penney after graduation, stowed them in my ample trunk and set off for college in my ’65 Ford Galaxy. Golf was my less-than-magnificent obsession– I played frequently and watched golf on weekends. I wasn’t any good, but didn’t know enough or have the money to take lessons in order to improve. Eventually, I laid aside the clubs and the game I loved, and endured life without golf.
I didn’t swing a club for twenty years, until a friend convinced me to pick it up the game again a year ago. This go around I took lessons and am playing better than ever before, but the real difference is mental. My caddy these days is grace. I strive to improve, but what I want most is to enjoy the moments strung together on the driving range or golf course. I’ve relieved myself of the awful burden of perfection and embrace the joy of standing on manicured greens and strolling down pristine fairways, surrounded by reminders that God is good. Better yet, my wife–a decent player and even better companion–often accompanies me, adding to the glory of it all. I’m working steadily to improve my game, but mostly I am allowing myself to enjoy it.
Can I enjoy the game of golf even though I’m not any good at it? Is it possible to love Jesus even though I stumble repeatedly over being salt and light? Allow me to frame it differently: What if discipleship is less about performance, and more about passion? What if Christ-following is more about desire than technical skill? What if the desired end result is not what I am able to produce, but who I become along the way? What if communing this moment with Jesus is the grandest preparation for eternity. Relationship trumps everything; joyful are those who revel in the Person of Jesus Christ and allow themselves the pleasure of his Presence.