Fore! A Few Reflections on Scorekeeping in Golf (and Life)

This one comes to us from Mbird contributor Russ Masterson: My family was in Florida […]

Mockingbird / 2.3.12

This one comes to us from Mbird contributor Russ Masterson:

My family was in Florida recently, and I played golf with my father-in-law and two brothers-in-law. I’m the worst in the bunch. I usually manage a couple good of holes, a handful of decent holes, a bunch of bad holes, and several awful holes. But I quit counting after I’m three over par on any given hole.

The situation reminded me of something about religious men I read in the Mbird favorite, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, by Robert Farrar Capon, “He will be justified in his death, but he will be so busy doing the bookkeeping on a life he cannot hold that he will never be able to enjoy himself. It’s just misery to try to keep count of what God is no longer counting (Capon 342).”

A few days before playing golf, my wife, two little girls, and I were picking up a few items at the grocery store. We finished our shopping, checked out, and walked toward the door. My 3-year-old stopped at a table, which was covered with cutout angels, each with a family’s name on it.

“Babe, put those back, those aren’t for us,” I said to my little girl.

“What are they?”

“Those are for people who give money to help buy people’s groceries.”

“We could do that,” she said, cheerfully.

“We could, but we don’t give money to that cause. There are bunches of causes, and we give to some other causes,” I said, thinking of the three or four organizations we do give money to.

“Oh,” she said, not fully satisfied with my answer as to why we won’t buy some needy family’s groceries.

This little exchange has stuck with me, not because I feel rotten for not giving money, but because it relates to how I golf, and also to Capon’s point about counting our good and bad deeds. We tend to count up to the point that we can manipulate, or deal with, the results. We count our wise savings plan or charitable giving, but we don’t count all of the No’s we give to all of the other causes every time we say Yes to something else.

If we stick with the money analogy, you might say, “Well, that’s okay. You can give the money somewhere else or provide for your family, and those are good things.”

This is true, completely true. But every dollar I spend elsewhere – on my daughter’s preschool, seeing Mission: Impossible 4, or buying my fifth pair of nice jeans – is a dollar I choose not to give to a hungry person. Of course, such constant evaluation leads to despair. But, if we are going to live a life of counting deeds (successes and failures) then let’s consider it all.

“Well, all of that – the preschool, movie, and jeans – isn’t exactly sinful,” you might say.

“Neither is it selfless, kind, and holy,” goes the response.

“But it’s not realistic to consider such complexities and possibilities in your count…”

At which point Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount spring to mind, where he equates murder and adultery with anger and lust – about as unrealistic as you can get. Capon’s point is Jesus’ point: quit keeping score to justify your righteousness (or your existence for that matter). It doesn’t work. And it’s exhausting.

In this light, repentance is as much a state of being than an event, and the grace of God toward us – in both our moments of weakness and strength, failure and success – is limitless.

As for my golf game, like I said, I count most but not all of my shots. I can’t face my real score. And I know that complete freedom would be to quit counting and swing away. I’d probably play better and would definitely have a better time. Alas, it sometimes feels like my nature compels me to count, to compare myself with others and with previous versions of myself. I suspect I will continue to do it until I believe the Sermon on the Mount, or even Capon’s words, more fully. Then, and only then, will I become a better golfer. I’m not holding my breath.