Letting Go

Last week I learned that a friend is giving up golf. Now, you may not care for golf, but this is a big deal. Doug is in his early 80s, he's always been a pretty good golfer, and in his retirement he would play four or five times a week, maybe more.

Within twenty-four hours I'd heard several of Doug's friends express concern. Some wondered why anyone would give up something they love. Although well intentioned, some criticized Doug: just because he's aging and maybe not up to his old standards, that doesn't mean he should quit. Is Doug a victim of his own pride?

I saw Doug the following morning, having plans of my own to play that afternoon. He shared with me: "I've quit. It's just not fun anymore. I can't hit the kind of shots I need to hit."

To understand Doug, we need to how aging happens in golf. We age gradually, but at some point our abilities decline much more rapidly. If we take really good care of ourselves, that point doesn't come until our late seventies or even later. But when it comes, there's no denying it. It happens fast.

We all grow older and slower. It gets tougher to walk the course, so some people use pull carts rather than carry a heavy bag up and down six miles of hills. When that's too much, we might ride in a cart. Eventually we find that we don't hit the ball as far and as high as we used to, but that's a gradual thing and no big deal. It's not just strength. Our nerves betray us. We find our fine motor skills ain't what they used to be. All of that is gradual - and if we're honest with ourselves, we can still have fun playing.

That gradual process isn't why Doug gave up golf. In just a year or two, he realized he could no longer hit the shots golf requires. When the time comes that you can't hit shots with a certain authority, when you can't fly the ball into the green so that it will stop near its landing spot, you're not playing the game the way it's designed to be played. Some people are okay with that, but many are not. Doug isn't. So he quit.

At church the pastor invited Doug to come out and play with us. Friends encouraged Doug not to get down on himself, not to quit. "Come on out! You'll enjoy it."

I did not encourage Doug to play. I told him I'd be happy to have him with us, he said no thanks, and I said I understood. A few signs told me Doug is declining in other ways - as we all will, if we're lucky enough to stay healthy. Doug has come to accept his own aging. He's not going to frustrate himself doing something he doesn't enjoy. He's letting go.

Later I told the pastor about my conversation with Doug. "Let it be," I said.

Christian tradition isn't particularly strong when it comes to letting go. Many Christians have begun to incorporate mindfulness into their spiritual practices, something Jesuits have practiced for centuries. With its tradition of contemplation and detachment, Buddhism excels in such wisdom. Somehow I doubt, though, that Buddhists do letting go much better than we Christians do. As for Christianity, Jesus was no great dispenser of wisdom for daily living no matter what Joel Osteen or T. D. Jakes says. He never created a clickbait blog: "7 Ways to Ensure Happiness in Old Age." Yet Jesus did tell his disciples not to linger when they face rejection (Mark 6:11 and parallels) and to focus on the concerns right in front of them (Matthew 6:25-34). Even a life devoted to pleasure comes to an empty end (Luke 12:15-21). As for Paul, perhaps it took suffering and imprisonment to find joy in every circumstance (2 Corinthians 4:7-18; Philippians 4:4-13). "The mind devoted to the Spirit is life and peace," Paul testifies. Despite these examples, letting go does not stand among the strengths of Christian spirituality.

"Do you miss it?" I asked Doug.

"Yeah, I miss it." Doug's a sharp guy. He stands up straight and lean, proud of a life of hard work and raising a family. He speaks with authority. He's on his own now, and that's not easy either. It does hurt to let go.

Of course he misses it. But Doug has attained a wisdom that often eludes me. I'm fifty years old, but I still struggle to let go. When something isn't working, can't work, doesn't bring me joy, doesn't make the world better, consistently causes me pain with no reward or result, it's time to let it go. That applies to activities, goals, people, relationships, and causes. There's a time to let it go.

Doug has other activities and lots of relationships. If Doug were the kind of man who'd be good at teaching golf (and life) to kids, I'd have suggested he try that. But that's not Doug. He misses golf, of course he does, but he has let it go and turned to other things. God bless him.