One Got Out

The story of Easter is all around us. And if we look real hard, we may even find it on a golf course...

 

Of all the bad habits I’ve ever acquired, golf is not the worst. But it’s close. I have written two golf books now and I’m surprised at the response. Millions of people golf. And they write me letters about this bad habit. For me, golf is a marvelous and maddening game that combines three favorite pastimes from my childhood: doing poorly at mathematics, taking long walks to get away from people, and hitting things with a stick. Not everyone loves golf. John Wayne gave it up out of frustration, I’m told. It’s amazing that a man who drew a six-shooter with lightning speed, won the battle of Iwo Jima almost single-handedly, and recaptured Bataan could be defeated by a 4-inch hole in the ground. But he was. One columnist wrote that golf is “the most useless game ever devised to waste the time and try the spirit of man.” Once, after shanking five balls into a murky creek, I tended to agree with him. But mostly I’ve found the opposite to be true—golf is a useful game that teaches us more about life and faith than we think, if only we will listen.

Paul Steinhauer is a golfing buddy of mine. Almost every time I take a swing I think of my Californian friend. It’s impossible not to. Paul gave me my clubs—a gorgeous set that provide great pleasure but leave me few excuses. Paul has given me far more than those clubs, though. The last time we golfed together, we left the scorecard in the clubhouse. A week earlier, Paul and his wife, Judy, laid their only child to rest in a grave on the wind-swept prairies. At 16 years of age, Janella was the victim of a car crash. Paul just wanted to walk that day. The golf course seemed the ideal place for it. I didn’t say much; I just listened.

“I don’t know how I can go on,” he told me, as he stood over a ball holding a six iron. “Janella would want me to keep going, I guess. To shoot again. Then walk toward the flagstick. You can’t play all 18 holes at once.” After a dreadful shot, Paul turned to me with a grin. “She would also want me to give you these clubs.”

I told him I couldn’t take them. He said I had no choice.

“I’ve never really liked them. I just ordered a better set,” he said. And for some reason we stood there laughing in the face of the worst tragedy we’d ever known.

            Whenever I reflect on tragedy, I remember the sleepy Sunday afternoon when my son Stephen was five years old. We drove past our town’s little golf course, then past the graveyard where Janella would be buried many years later. Noticing a large pile of dirt beside a newly excavated tomb, Stephen pointed and said: “Look, dad! One got out!”

            I laughed at his words, but the more I laughed, the more I began to hang onto them. You see, every time I pass a graveyard now, every time I see a cross on a chain, I am reminded of the reason for our joy and hope: “One got out!” Death could not keep our Savior in the ground. Jesus Christ, the one exception to all the rules, broke the chains of death, shattered our fears, and promised us eternity with Him.

Most churches in which I am privileged to minister have a cross. Some are carved into the pulpit, some hang on a wall, others are relegated to a foyer. But in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, there is a cross like no other. It is a sturdy 10-foot wooden cross like a thousand others, but it is bolted into the concrete floor in the center of the sanctuary. The preacher can’t walk in front of the pulpit without stepping over it. The congregation can’t listen to him without seeing it. In the same way the cross must be at the center of our lives. It is the central point of human history, and the central focus of all who embrace the Savior who hung there one awful day two thousands years ago. There was nothing good about that Friday. It left eleven men in agony. Perhaps they locked themselves away, asking questions none of them could answer.

Until that glorious Sunday when “One got out.”

 

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