Ever have one of those days when you could see trouble coming?
Actually, in my case, it’s been more like a week. That’s how long ago I got the email from my opening-week opponent in our parish golf league. I hadn’t looked at the match schedule ahead of time, so when I discovered whom I’d be playing in the first round of the season, my heart sank a bit.
It’s not that I don’t like the guy. I do.
Really, I do.
It’s just that he’s raised “needling” to an art form. He talks – a LOT – during a round of golf, offering not-so-helpful suggestions…keeping a running tab on the score…and just doing whatever he can to get an edge (even if that means pushing a few buttons to get under his opponent’s skin).
As I’ve noted previously, my golf game tends to wither a bit in pressure situations. When you add to that the fact that I hadn’t had a chance to practice this spring…well, let’s just say I could see trouble looming. Instead of joyful anticipation (Praise the Lord: the first round of the season!), the feeling in my gut was something closer to a dreadful anxiety.
Granted, nothing more than a golf match was at stake. Still, echoes of today’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah were rumbling through my brain:
I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.’
Any sports psychologist will tell you that such thought patterns are not conducive to victory. When you envision failure, you often fish your wish. And sure enough, despite my efforts to keep negative thoughts at bay, the wheels started to come off halfway through the match. I was holding my own…but just barely…against my loquacious foe.
It turned out that things would be decided on the final hole – which, at the course we play, meant our drives would have to carry 75 yards over water before reaching the fairway. Ordinarily, that’s not a particularly vexing challenge. But on this day, I had developed an annoying flaw in my swing – topping the ball at the tee box on the four previous holes so that it never really got airborne.
I knew if I repeated that swing here, at the last, I’d be doomed. My ball would be ‘wet’ and the match—in all likelihood—would be lost.
You’d think it would be the perfect time for a little needling, a little gamesmanship, to occur. But my opponent was uncharacteristically silent. The only voices I could hear were the ones in my own head, screaming ‘Don’t screw up! Don’t screw up!’
And then, in a moment of grace, I prayed.
I prayed, not for success, but simply for the negative thoughts to abate.
‘Save me, Lord, from thinking the worst about myself. Remind me about the truth of the matter: that I am Your beloved child…that we are all Your beloved children, win or lose.’
I think that must be the kind of prayer that God likes to answer. God wants us to understand our belovedness…our fundamental worthiness, even in those inevitable moments of ineptitude or distress.
And yes, in case you’re wondering – God did calm my mental storm yesterday evening, at least long enough for me to hit an inelegant worm-burner that cleared the edge of the lake by a good six to eight inches or so.
So did I win? Does it really matter?
Not nearly as much as the newfound appreciation I have developed for the words of Psalm 18:
In my hope I again called upon the Holy One.
I even pleaded.
Within the sacred temple of the world
God heard my persistent pleading,
that seemed to be only a whisper within the expanse.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.