Jonathan and Rachel share many common interests. One of them is golf. They are not alone in longing to consistently drive the middle of the fairway, hit the green in regulation, get out of sand traps in decent shape, and sink those birdie putts. And we are willing to spend serious money on the latest clubs, clothing, lessons, books and videos to achieve that.
Whether you play golf or not, here are 12 simple lessons I am learning about golf which equally apply to marriage. They may not improve your game of golf but they will certainly improve your game in life.
1. Golf teaches that we all have handicaps … and that hardly anybody knows what they really are. In marriage you get the chance to discover what those handicaps are in yourself and in your partner and in love help improve one another’s game.
2. Golf teaches that the best courses are the ones that hardly change what God put there in the first place. As they say, play the ball where it lies and play the course as you find it. Fulfillment comes in accepting each other the way God has made us, handicaps and all, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.
3. Golf teaches that although there are a few people who are honest in golf but cheat in life, everybody who cheats in golf cheats in life. Marriage, like the rules of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrew, requires total honesty. In marriage you never need to lie about your handicap. Share everything with one another, openly and honestly and then together you will find an answer to every hazard ahead of you.
4. Golf teaches that even though we need strict rules, we also need a leaf rule. Because we all have a handicap, we all need a forgiving partner. The most important words to use in marriage as in golf are ‘I am sorry’ ‘what do you think?’ ‘Its your honour’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
5. Golf teaches that even people who wear green tartan plus fours deserve a place where they can get a little exercise and not be laughed at. Marriage is the place where you can be yourself and not have to follow a dress code. Instead of competing with each other all the time, marriage is the place to support your partnership and improve your game together.
6. Golf teaches that even though you probably don’t have a shot at being the best, you do have a good shot at being the best you can be. Start each day with a fresh score card, focus on your own score and aim to be the best partner you can be. You will be surprised how far your strokes will go.
7. Golf teaches that both success and failure are temporary and that success is a lot more temporary. You can start a game in glorious sunshine and by the second hole you are have to change into all-weather gear. Marriage is about completing the course and the greatest rewards are for those who persevere and make the whole round. Winning at golf, as in marriage is about finishing well. Golf rewards those who forget the mis-hits, the bunkers and the double bogeys – and press on to a strong finish.
8. Golf teaches that although practice does not always make us perfect, no practice always makes us imperfect. Marriage is all about being a learner and always seeking new ways to improve your stroke, your pitching and your putting. Make it your aim to be teachable and a learner in marriage and your game will improve.
9. Golf teaches that no matter how good you are, there is always someone better and that person will usually find you and tell you. Resist the temptation to be like someone else or be with someone else. The grass may be greener on the other fairway but you will still have to mow the grass and pay the fees.
10. Golf teaches that even though the best golfers have the most chances to win, we all have sufficient chances to improve. Marriage is about the joy of improving your game. Keep practising and you will keep improving.
11. Golf teaches you to hand in your score card because the aim is to lower your handicap. I am still waiting to get a card worth handing in. The third person in a good marriage, as in a game of golf, is having a pro play alongside you, the person who modelled the rules perfectly – Jesus Christ.
Imagine playing someone with a perfect score – a hole in one on every fairway, every time, better even than a Tiger Woods. Would it put you off or improve your game? But imagine as you walk away from the 18th, he takes your card, puts his name on your card and your name on his. That is what Jesus did for us on the cross. A perfect score. In marriage as in golf, God would have us remember he thought up the rules because he designed us with a purpose in mind. If we ask for his help he will show us how to play the only game that matters, the game that need never end. Invite him to be your pro.
12. Finally, golf teaches that, on some dewy morning or golden afternoon, with the sun warming the world, we can find ourselves walking through an improvised meadow and realize we are not searching for a little white ball, but for a glimpse of eternity, where the world of nature and the world of play are one. And then in the dew and sunshine we can understand that even though we can make a ball perfectly white, only God can make a meadow perfectly green.
May you experience that sense of wonder in one another, in God’s presence, every day of your life.