just once i want to play my usual game

I was playing golf the week after Christmas; I hadn’t played in two months.  It was brisk, to the say the least, when we started.  But I was hopeful.

I’m always hopeful on the first tee.  The slate is clean.  Everything in front of me is an opportunity.  As a friend said to me years ago about golf, “Just once I would like to shoot my usual game.”  Get it?  I find that I live on the verge of being a decent golfer.  I show flashes of accomplishment.  I look pretty good standing over the ball.  I have an athletic swing.  I hit it pretty far.  My putting has gotten better.  But somehow, my score has stayed the same.

But perhaps not this time?  Perhaps this time I will play the game I envision myself playing.  This time I won’t have “blow up” holes, where I lose strokes that I can never recover.  Perhaps this time I will do what I know I am capable of.

That hope lasted all of five holes, until I hit two terrible shots in a row and my round was “done.”

I am similarly hopeful on New Year’s Day.  I take stock of the last year, noting accomplishments and failures (I do find myself more aware of the failures!).  I ponder what I want for and from this new year and I come up with goals, not resolutions.  Some are qualitative and some are measurable, but all move me toward becoming the man I want to be and living the life I feel called to live.

Sometimes I keep track of them on paper or in my journal.  Usually that lasts weeks, rarely months.  Eventually I lose focus, or maybe it’s a loss of interest.  Like all of us, I find that I fail more than I succeed.  I find that in life, like in golf, I can’t live my “usual” game.  Whether it’s food or spiritual disciplines or being a better husband, dad, or friend, I just don’t measure up.

New Year’s and all its promises—and inevitable disappointments—are an awful lot like my Christian life.  That January-February routine is like the movie Groundhog Day, mirroring my relationship with God.  I start with hope, I try hard, then I fail.  I lose focus,  but keep moving in what I hope is the right direction.  And then I have to (get to?) start again.

As I reflected this holiday season, I was struck with two very central truths about my life.  First, God has provided a way for me to start over more frequently than every twelve months.  The forgiveness that God grants when I fail Him and fail to love others gives the opportunity to wipe the slate clean.  I can own my failure and really start again.  That is great news!

And second, I am struck with how hopeful I am when I start over.  I do long to be different.  I want to be more faithful and kind and thoughtful and tender-hearted and . . . well, the list is long.  And as often as I fail, the desire for more from me and for me doesn’t go away.  I long for heaven, a world set right with relationships marked solely by love.  I long not to be disappointed and not to disappoint.  And one day, by His grace, I will get there.

But until that day comes, He gives me chances, over and over, to start again in the hope that one day I might actually live my “usual” life (the one I can see in my mind but just can’t execute).





Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister.  He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.

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