Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

2 Corinthians 10:3,4:

Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.

I invite you to read this article in the New York Times before we go further with this discussion.

What in the world, might you wonder, does an article with athletic obsession have to do with our spirituality?

Two of the things many of us are prone to are obsessions and compulsions. There are a lot of us out there who would not be "diagnose-able" with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but sort of "live on the edge." If we look at our past behaviors, we would see that we have a problem with the boundary between "Passion" and "Obsession." We might have these passions for things that are healthy things--like exercise or healthy eating or hobbies--but if we don't reality check ourselves, they become obsessions. In the article above, it's easy to see that for some of these runners, running ceased to be a passion and became an obsession a long time ago, to the point they are willing to damage their physical health to continue running.

I think it's time I talk about a part of my life that some of my friends are sort of puzzled that it "mysteriously disappeared." This is the first time I have ever told this story.

I used to play golf--a LOT of golf. Other than a couple of charity scrambles, I have not picked up a club in a serious way for three years.

I have used the excuse, "Oh, my job, yada yada, my time constraints, yada yada." That really isn't the whole story.

I first started learning to play golf my senior year of medical school--to relax. I had played a lot of sports in high school, but never golf. As it turned out, I took to it like a duck to water. Although I'm a little wild, I'm strong--there aren't a lot of females out there who can drive the ball 230 yards--and I had good nerve for putting. Within five years, I got my handicap under 15, and my lowest legitimate handicap was 12 (more on the legit part later.) I won a lot of trophies and tourneys and even could qualify for some of the "not ready for prime time" echelons of the state amateur, the USGA public links tourney, and I held two records in two age groups in the Missouri Show-me Games. I was not "great," but I was "good enough to compete at a certain level."

For probably about 15 years or so, almost my every waking moment that wasn't occupied with work was occupied with golf. I played with the crazies at 7 a.m. so I could get my round finished in under four hours. I was obsessed with the physical fitness of walking the course. I read golf magazines, constantly upgraded my equipment, and constantly evaluated which kind of golf balls to use. I went by the driving range after work at least 3 days of the week, played 18 holes 2 times a week, and in the long summer days, played a few holes after work. I had not just one, but TWO holes-in-one.

The trouble began when I got "good enough to play at a certain level."

I suddenly started feeling the pressure to be a little better than I knew I could be--"it just needed a little more work," you know--and I could not live up to it. The end result was I started selling out to myself. My USGA handicap was legitimately at a place that was past the 90th percentile for women. I could play from the longer tee boxes with my male friends and hold my own. My best golf buddy M. was just as obsessed as me, so it seemed ok.

But in that spectrum, I crossed a line where playing golf was no longer relaxing, and I controlled IT, to where it controlled ME and I was becoming more and more edgy and pressured. I was losing my temper on the course and doing things I swore I never would do--tossing clubs, walking off in a huff, dumping "golf friends."

Then came the secret sin.

I started on occasion, after a crappy round, sort of "forgetting" to turn in those rounds, so my handicap stayed low. I had, towards the end, a handicap that wasn't legit, but a "glamour" handicap. I got away with it b/c most golfers hate "sandbaggers"--people who don't turn in their GOOD rounds so they get more strokes when calculating handicaps for competition--and I wasn't winning anyone's money--so no one cared about my glamour handicap. But I knew, and I figured some of my friends knew too, but they didn't mind winning ten bucks because I had an ego problem, so they didn't think anything of it!

But the day that did me in was the last time I played with my friend M. By this time his dementia was obvious, and his golf game had pretty much deteriorated. I went out with the total intent of just "having fun with him" and not worrying about my round.

But the truth came out pretty quick.

Taking him to play by then meant I had to pretty much commandeer everything for him--where his ball was, what club to use, and deal with some of his obsessive behavior. About six holes into it, I just LAUNCHED on him, telling him how this wasn't fun for ME, and HE was the problem here, and all I was doing was running myself ragged taking care of him for something that wasn't fun for me AT ALL. "You don't even CARE about MY game anymore," I yelled.

It was the utter look of sadness that crossed his face that broke my heart, when he replied, "I know this is harder for you than you ever expected. I didn't plan on this happening to me, you know. You don't know how much I appreciate it, even though I know it wears on you."

At that point I seriously broke down and cried.

We finished our outing and things were calmer.

But that night I put the clubs in the garage and have not been that interested in them ever since.

It was my first real understanding I can have toxic obsessions.

One of the things I have constantly had to come to grips with in my own spiritual growth, and find I have to constantly go back to and truly LISTEN to what God is telling me, is for my spiritual growth to remain a passion but not become an obsession. I have not always succeeded there, but what I have found is that spiritual practices such as silence and contemplation and "alone time" help me there, as well as give me time to de-brief in the presence of God those times I have crossed the line and my spiritual growth and relationships became a bit of an obsession.

You see, I don't ever want to have that day where I put my "God clubs" in the garage and walk away. I actually did that once, about 25 years ago, and it took me 25 years to go back in the garage...but God said, "Hey...why don't we buy you some new clubs. I don't think these old clubs will work for you this time around."

This has NOT been perfect. I can get obsessed with the notion that "THIS practice, THIS thing right here, is absolutely, positively what I need to be doing to be closer to God," or "THIS person has the key answer so I need to listen to THIS person and not THAT person," and sometimes it takes me a little while to figure that out, but the most important thing is that I recognize something very valuable:

God does not require me to maintain or live up to a numerical handicap.

God doesn't keep score.

God just wants us to be out on the course with him.

So why am I telling this story?

Many of us became closer to God, or gave church another try, because we needed to overcome something--addiction, a divorce, a death, a change in attitude, any of a whole host of things. It is important not to take with us what we needed to prove before we made this switch.

Folks, that is what the altar is for.

Every week, we who live in the liturgical church world have the opportunity to leave those things on the altar and eat and drink the body and blood of Christ. We have the ability to do better than "trade one obsession for another." Sometimes we cheapen our own God-experience because we are so skilled at trading one obsession for another, so that's all we do. But the Eucharist is so much bigger than that. We can do more than trade our personal obsession for a God-obsession, we can allow ourselves to be healed and be in relationship with God, and listen and be instructed for a life that is so much more than an obsession-swap. Better yet, we can fail on occasion and start all over, with no old handicap index to weigh us down like the world can do. What's not to like?


I have worked in general orthopedics for 25 years, spinal one year, and sports medicine for the last 5. When I saw the x-ray, I said to myself "Jones fracture - Ugh" It is a nasty fracture and hard to heal on its own. It usually involves a screw fixation and has been the end of many a career. In our practice, we deal with professional, college,and high school athletes on a regular basis. Weekend warriors are the worst. They cannot give it up. You call it an obsession - I call it a drug. There is such a rush to it, especially running, that no injury can get them down. They get so angry when they are told the only treatment is to rest and stop running for awhile. Not being a runner, I cannot identify with that, except in my spiritual life. I have been passionate about my faith most of my life. That has escalated to obsession a few of the times. The old "mountain and valley" concept speaks to me. Shepherds used to graze flocks on pastures in the lowlands during the winter and the mountains in the summer. I am sure vegetation and climate had a lot to do with it. I think it is the same for us. We have our mountaintop experiences and our valley times of peaceful grazing. It is real tempting to want to stay up, but we find ourselves stranded and without "spiritual food".

I love your blog. Thanks so much for your insight and taking the time to sit a spell and write. Meditation and prayer are something I am struggling with. Your statement about meditation helping with the balance just helped that struggle. God bless.

As always, Jo, thanks for the fan mail. You are right about the drug thing. Many physical and spiritual activities release endorphins. Truth is, we become addicted to our fixes.

In the case of religion and spirituality, it's often as a response to another addiction we come to church, or after the loss of a relationship, which also produces endorphins in the relationship's pleasurable moments. So our physical selves have physical needs, and some people literally find themselves managing another addiction!

You have good insight with the peaks and valleys thing--I have to agree.

Some day I will have to blog on "why I started blogging," but the short version is it became a response to my meditation and prayer time. I thought about how in liturgical worship, we have "the word" and "the response to the word." It's a natural reaction when the word speaks to us, to respond. So that is what I decided to do!

Thanks, as always.

It is remarkable that several people can speak about a subject from such different perspectives. I started to play golf years ago when I realized the woman I was dating was a golfer. I started out thinking ... well, if you're gonna take up a sport, you might as well take up one you can continue for a long time. When I get the opportunity to play golf I do ... because: 1) I consider it a GAME - something FUN; 2) you walk and it isn't boring; 3) each course has it's own beauty; 4) I'm not sitting in front of a computer; and 5) It rather painlessly has taught me about humility. You can have a great shot, great put, great round .... or a mixture of great and other than great ... or just funky. But - I see it as a game, and no two games are alike. I certainly have heard the Lord's name taken in vain and in awe on a golf course. Golf has done my spiritual life a world of good ... and the exercise is a real bonus! Thanks for sharing this, Maria.

A beautiful post. I am loving your blog. Sorry I am so late to it.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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