One of my favorite things to do while playing golf is to hit the ball from wherever it might be. Typically there are certain areas that are labeled as “hazards,” meaning that you don’t have to hit your ball from there but take a penalty stroke and move the ball to a better position. Ever since I was a little kid though, I have loved climbing around in the trees and bushes or mucking around in muddy swamps; if there was dirt somewhere I was probably playing in it. When I started playing golf this predisposition kind of just carried over.
If there was a hazard I was sure to be found in the middle of it even if my ball wasn’t in there, looking for balls someone else might have left behind, often to the chagrin of my playing partners. I remember one time in particular down in the California desert in something labeled as “Rattlesnake Habitat, Keep Out.” Well, I certainly didn’t see any snakes but I found plenty of balls, though I thought my buddy was going to die of fright that I was in such a place. Hey, I read Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul totally gets bitten by a snake, but the poison doesn’t affect him because of the faith, so no fear, right?
I became a master of finding my ball and making a halfway decent result from whatever terrible situation I had found myself in. Typically, by the end of the round I would have mud up and down my pants legs and at least one sock would be soaking wet, but I had a blast and hit some amazing shots too. I have found there is a strong carry-over into the spiritual life in that there is a lot of satisfaction in going into the worst places and finding redemption, whether it be my own or someone else’s. You could look at the situation and say lesson learned, let’s try again later, but there is something to be said for hitting the ball out from underneath a cactus. It builds character that can be useful in other areas of life.
What’s the point of all this? Don’t be afraid of following through on your mistakes. Taking responsibility for your actions and moving on adds something to the experience, whether it be a golf ball stuck in a rotting stump, or getting caught out with your buddies at a seedy restaurant because they said it had “really good chicken wings,” or realizing at 10:45 p.m. you haven’t prayed yet today. There is something to be said for stepping up and making the best of a bad situation, because it shapes you in a way that playing from the garden spot can’t. Life is full of hazards and if you learn to hit from them, everything becomes the fairway. That doesn’t mean you should aim for them, but fear falls away. Prayers Always, Fr. Joseph Altenhofen