Back in the glory days of high school, I was a golfer. I still get out to the driving range from time to time, but nothing near what I used to do. In those days, I would be at the golf course nearly every day after school and on most weekends. If I couldn’t make it there, I would go out to my grandpa’s back yard and chip around until dark. It was all in the effort to prepare for tournaments and to get lower scores. Yet no matter how much practice I had had, nothing could take away the first tee jitters.
It’s how we golfers describe that feeling when everyone’s eyes are on you as you start the tournament round. Dreams of birdies, sand saves, and close approaches flash through your mind as you line up your first shot. So much potential energy ready to be unleashed in that little white ball. What raises the hair on your back, though, is the realization that that potential energy could equally be used for bad shots as well as those good shots you imagined.
Two days away from my first ever seminary class, I am beginning to feel those first tee jitters. It’s been two whole years since my last class, so I imagine I might not hit the ground running. I had hopes and dreams of sticking to a rigorous reading regiment as the summer closed so that I would not miss a beat once September 5th arrived. Yet none of the books I intended to read have been touched since then. I realized this two weeks ago and felt a rising panic shiver through my spine.
Have I remembered all that Dr. Falk taught me at U of O? Have I still the extreme discipline to read hundreds and hundreds of pages day after day after day? And do I still possess the cognitive functions to compose arguments rooted deeply in research? Such questions have sometimes left me feeling it’d be better if I walked away.
Such feelings are not unfounded, either; I’m working full time hours, I have a wonderful church family, and in some ways I feel more myself now than in any year prior. Life certainly is good. Yet Captain Jack Sparrow’s words echo in my mind, “Bring me that horizon.”
Unlike his adventures, my move to Portland is less of a physical journey and more of a spiritual journey (and involves significantly less rum). I’m plunging forward in the effort to test a four year-old feeling: Whether or not I should lead in ministry. Much of this journey is inward, searching out the unearthed parts of my heart – areas long scarred over, yet in need of God’s healing. And that is the part I fear; what God will do to me.
Yet I must never forget that when God does something to somebody, it’s always in the effort of doing something far greater for them. Take Abram, for example. When God called him away from his area of comfort, He took much away from him. But what he did for Abraham (notice the spelling change) was far greater than what he had left behind. And no, I’m not referring to people, places, and things. I’m talking about Abraham himself.
No, I don’t expect God to build a huge nation after me (but that’d be cool; yes, they’d be called the “Cushites”), but whatever He is intending to do will only cause me to grow with Him. Just as I feel more myself now than I ever have before, so I will feel in a year from now after having begun this journey. Yet it cannot happen if I don’t tee it up this Thursday night.
First tee jitters are never easy to deal with. But the only solace, the only comfort I could find that helped me swing that first swing was a target. It was something to aim at and let the ball fly. In most cases, I didn’t quite hit my target. But I also didn’t blow it (completely).
After the first tee has been dealt with, the rest of the round is usually much easier. No, the shots don’t get easier, but the feeling leading into each shot gets easier. One golfer I played with always rushed through the first tee. He hated the suspense of waiting around for the round to start, so when it was his turn, he’d tee up and fire away. He just wanted to get things going. It may not have been the best strategy, but the pressure never broke him. It was always the opposite.
What I guess I’m trying to say is that it when comes to major changes in our lives, the best thing we can do for ourselves is focus on something small and just go for it. Even if we don’t hit that small target, we at least got the ball rolling. After that point, it’s all about the next shot.
I will only find out if I’m capable of handling seminary by showing up two days from now. It means focusing on that first class just to get things going. Whatever happens after that can only be dealt with after that.
So tee it up and let it fly.