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God Lets You Take A Mulligan
(Is grieving feeling sorry for yourself?)

A question about grieving sliced my way recently. I was golfing with a recently widowed young man. He didn't directly ask. He casually teed an issue up to see if I would take a swing: "Don't you think a lot of grief is feeling sorry for yourself?"

It was a statement disguised as a question, but I decided to take a poke at it. His conventional clichéd outlook irritated me so my reply was slightly barbed: "What if it is?"

He missed an easy putt, perplexed, I think, by my irreverent reply. We moved toward the next hole in silence. When we got to the tee he said, "Well, uhhh, we're not supposed to feel sorry for ourselves, are we?" He was having trouble getting his ball to stay on the tee, befuddled maybe how to defend his opening shot. When he settled down he hammered a colossal drive. Then it was my turn. As I took a practice swing I countered, "Why not? Where is it written that we're not supposed to feel sorry for ourselves?" I hit a great shot. I could feel I was on a roll. We went toward opposite sides of the fairway coming together at the green.

"Well, it seems to me if I started feeling sorry for myself I'd just sink deeper and deeper into sadness and bitterness. Pretty soon I'd be in way over my head and never get out." He skulled his chip shot and it zoomed off the other side of the green.

"I'll bet you're feeling sorry for yourself after that shot," I chuckled. He grinned and made a classy return.

"Maybe it goes the other way," I suggested, "maybe if you let yourself feel good and sorry for yourself you might get out of the hole you're in."

He didn't answer. He seemed to be thinking about what I said so we walked without talking for a while to the next tee.

"It is the pits," he said woefully, "My life is over," and went on to elaborate in detail. I mostly listened as I hacked on.

After a while I broke in. "Life has dealt you a pretty raw deal. You would feel sorry for someone else if they were going through what you're struggling with."

"Maybe so," he allowed, "but so what?"

"Well, if it's natural to feel sorry for someone else what's wrong with feeling sorry for yourself? Cut yourself some slack. Let go of your intellectual control and just feel badly when your sadness and loneliness creep up on you. Don't worry about some crazy old tale that you shouldn't feel sorry for yourself. Very few bog down very long. God lifts you up again. You have to grieve and you're checking yourself every time you start."

"Makes sense," he said, not too convincingly.

"Don't worry about sinking in over your head," I said. "God has created us to heal. Every time you've cut or scratched yourself it has healed. How many bones have you broken that didn't come together again as strong or stronger than ever?" I paused as I lined up for my last drive, "you will heal from this too even though the pain may never totally go away. But you have to bleed!" I topped my drive and it feebly dribbled fifty yards down the fairway. "No Mulligans*," he said heartlessly. I laughed and seized the opportunity. "I think there can be one for you, Joe. God allows for Mulligans. Your wife would want you to take a Mulligan. Besides what greater compliment could you give her than to remarry. It is a way of saying `that was good, I want more of the same.'"

I realized I had moved too far and too fast. He was nowhere near to being ready for this salvo. But he was gracious and I thought "oh well, planting the seed won't hurt." I finished my homily with a playful analogy. "Have you ever noticed how golf is like life, Joe? Just when you think you've got the hang of it, when you feel like you have it under control, you top a drive or blow an easy putt and you're totally humbled. Then when nothing is going right and you feel absolutely good for nothing you birdie a hole or hit a fantastic drive. And you feel like a million bucks again. Life and golf can't be controlled."

Back at the clubhouse we tallied up our scores and drank our diet sodas. His mood had lifted, maybe because he had defeated me handily, maybe on account of the conversation and companionship. Our attention drifted to the game on the TV, a convenient lifter from the heavy topic we'd carted around the golf course. As we began to leave we hugged and he said, "thanks" in a powerful way, and we parted.

* A Mulligan is a free second shot.

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