Here’s the third and final little piece in our summer holiday series of spiritual golf lessons.
Picture the scene.
I’ve smashed a soaring 230m drive down the middle. I’ve laced a piercing 3-iron that comes to rest just a few feet from the green. And there I stand, having taken two shots to be just short of the green on a par 5.
I look significantly at my playing partners, and they give an appreciative nod. Well, well, well. Who would have thought?
Anyway, here I am. I just have to chip the ball up onto the green, and then it’s a rare putt for birdie. Worst case: two putts for five, and an easy par.
Anxiety starts to nibble at the edges of my mind. What if I totally mess this up, like I did last time?
It wasn’t that long ago. I was in much the same rare position. Just off the green for two. Feeling heroic. Then I stubbed the chip and advanced the ball a pathetic three feet. Then caught the next one thin and sent it scudding across the green into the bunker. Then took two to get out of the bunker. Three-putted. Fumed off the green with 10.
The one thing I absolutely must not do is repeat that fiasco. Just forget about it. It’s history. Don’t even think about your playing partners’ reaction were you to do it again. Just relax. This is easy. Only an idiot would mess up this opportunity …
The result is inevitable. The weight of the past is too heavy. And the more you dwell on it, and even try to convince yourself not to repeat it, the more inexorably the anxiety and the memories bear down, and paralyse you.
Τhis is one of the elusive skills of golf—the ability to forget the last shot. To play good golf you have to obliterate from your mind the failures and frustrations of the past, and focus just on this shot, the one in front of you, with a free and untroubled confidence.
Very few golfers can do this consistently. They are the ones at the top of leaderboards.
But it’s not just golf.
Can you imagine how good life would be if we could truly escape the burden of the past? If we could erase the humiliations, hurts and damage of the past? There are lovely platitudes that suggest we can. Live in the moment. Leave your past in the past. Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.
But it’s as difficult in life as it is in golf. Guilt and hurt have a way of taking up residence. They linger in our lives like unwelcome houseguests. There are memories and feelings and consequences that we find almost impossible to escape. They boil over in the present and we mess up all over again. We do even more damage, and lay down new scar tissue, and so the cycle of hurt, anxiety and failure continues.
Imagine being free of it all.
Imagine being able to begin each day with a completely satisfied and untroubled mind—of being able to look back on all your yesterdays without guilt or anxiety or hurt, with nothing to condemn you, and no bitterness or anger towards those who have done you wrong.
This is the stunning and unique possibility that the Christian gospel offers—a fresh start, every day.
All the sins of yesterday, and all the days before, are washed away by the blood of Jesus. They are all paid for in full. No condemnation remains. I’m freely and completely justified—just-if-I’d never done them.
I am not only forgiven in full; I am also set free to forgive others. Forgiving others is part of the same liberating work that the gospel does in our lives. The gospel moves us, and requires us, to extend to other people the same forgiveness that God has granted to us. Malice, bitterness and revenge belong to our former lives that were crucified with Jesus on the cross.
This is freedom—to start again, each day, with a clean slate; to have no regrets or recriminations; to be at peace with God, with myself and with others. And all of it because of the cleansing blood of Christ.
I can face up to being a golfer that can’t forget the last shot.
But I know I can only face up to myself and to other people because of the liberating, cleansing, forgiving love that God has poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little series of holiday golf lessons. Back to more normal Payneful Truthing next week. This week’s pic was taken at a desert golf course in Phoenix Arizona, and the shot was one that I have certainly not forgotten—see the tiny white dot near the pin?
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