Over Par for Life

Dear Will:

When I was around 16 years old, I had a life-changing experience while strolling down the fairway at the Glendora Country Club. It was summertime, and I was golfing with friends—Tim Patterson probably, perhaps Jeff Salter or Mike Daly or maybe Brian Regele. I was in the midst of a typical round of exasperating, worse-than-bogie golf. After chunking another short iron and slamming my club to the ground in frustration, I had a great epiphany—as if angelic choirs were singing a hymn composed for me and me alone. You will never be any good at this game, the cherubim seemed to intone. Amen and amen.

Even so, I’ve always liked golf—still do. But I’m terrible at it in ways that the word terrible fails to adequately express. I could spend thousands on lessons and equipment and greens fees, quit my job and devote myself to the game full time, but I would remain, at best, a mediocre golfer, one who knows that over par is the best he should ever reasonably hope for. Anything better than that, on any single hole on any single day, is not just an aberration but a fluke of miraculous proportions.

I was pondering all of this the other day while hacking my way around a course with some friends from work. I had five bogies and four worse-then-bogies in nine holes on a relatively easy golf course. Final score: many, many strokes more than allowed, significantly  and emphatically over par. As always. Forever. Just like my life, I thought.

At which point the choirs sang again.

Over Par for Life—the only standard I consistently live up to. If I had a personal website, down by my logo you might find the tagline: “Falling Short Since 1968.” Good intentions I have down cold. Successful follow-through, on the other hand? Not so much. In theory, I’m a terrific husband and father, a dedicated employee, an unselfish, generous, kindhearted soul who is unflappable in the face of trouble and impervious to stress. In practice, however,  I’m as proud as the next guy, self-serving and self-righteous, low on patience and cranky when it suits me. Plus I’m way too quick to raise my voice. Way.

Consequently, this is not one of my favorite scriptures: “What manner of men ought ye to be?” Jesus asked.  “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). I think that pretty much means that I’m supposed to be nice to everyone all the time, control my temper, think of others first, give until I have nothing left to give. I’m supposed to uphold all 12 of the principles in the Scout Law and live the Young Women’s Values at the same time.  Be totally other than I am, in other words.

You will never be any good at this game. Amen and amen.

And yet, even for a perpetual duffer like me, there remains not just a glimmer of hope, but an incandescent hope so bright that it cannot be ignored. The whole reason Jesus came to this earth in the first place was to make a way for us, in spite of our imperfections, to reconcile ourselves with God.  “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness,” the Lord has said.  “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

So there you have it: a fighting chance for all of us who perpetually fail to measure up. Over Par for Life, perhaps, but His grace is sufficient to make up the difference. Sufficient. Enough. Even for a hacker like me.

Now if only I could get that promise to apply to my golf game. That would be truly something.


Getting My Mornings Back

Dear Will:

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”—which is a pretty good indication that Ben was annoying to most of his friends. I have Franklin on the brain these days because this week will be my last as an Early Morning Seminary teacher—for a while anyway.

Throughout the school year, I get up every morning around 5 a.m. to teach my class to high school juniors and seniors. It’s an assignment that I love, but it does take its toll. Because of that commitment, I don’t get enough sleep or exercise and have very little in the way of discretionary time. So as I anticipate the prospect of getting my mornings back (for the summer at least), I find myself trying to decide what to do with the time that might otherwise have been occupied with preparing for or teaching lessons in the wee hours of the morning.

The most obvious change is likely to be that I will sleep more. That’s probably a good thing, but I can’t help wondering what I might accomplish if I had the self-discipline necessary to continue getting up at 5 a.m.  Imagine the possibilities:

  • Exercise
  • Study the scriptures
  • Do work that might otherwise occupy my afternoon or evening hours
  • Goof off

Any of those options—including the goofing off—would be preferable to simply lounging away the hours (provided, that is, that I’m getting sufficient sleep)—especially since it promises to provide me more time with my wife and children. Continuing to show such early morning discipline would also show a strength of character that would make Ben Franklin proud.

He wouldn’t be the only one. The Lord has said: “Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated” (D&C 88:124). If I could just get the “retire to thy bed early” part down, I would be set.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It will provide a great test. How willing will I be to get up early when I don’t have to? I certainly have enough on my to-do list tomorrow to warrant it. We shall see.

There is a bigger issue here, of course. Any time we successfully get ourselves to do something we don’t much feel like doing, we build a pattern of discipline that is consistent with the expectations of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, he outlined a long list of challenges for us to rise above low expectations. It is what King Benjamin referred to as “putting off the natural man”—becoming a different sort of person than we might otherwise be: submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love (Mosiah 3:19). I don’t know about you, but none of those things come “naturally” to me.

Christ himself set the bar even higher: “What manner of men ought ye to be?” he asked. “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). Now I don’t mean to suggest that getting up before the sun is “Christlike.” I only suggest that my ability to show the discipline to get up and get going improves my chances of becoming more like Him in that which matters most. After all, discipline is the essence of discipleship.

Hmmm. You’ve talked me into it: Tomorrow, I shall rise early on a day I do not have to. And I shall be a better man for it. (Wish me luck.)