Golf Balls and Hardship

The problem of suffering is one of the big questions all must wrestle with in the passage of their lives. It is part of the shared human experience of which all are familiar.

While you won’t find the definitive answer to the question here, what follows is hopefully a refreshing perspective on what these things produce.

The character Akira in Chop Wood Carry Water relays a story that might be of some help in this regard. It’s the story of how golf balls were first made.

“At first, golf balls were made smooth, without dimples at all. But eventually during testing, one man started to notice something strange. He developed a theory about it, and one day he came to work early to test his theory, because he thought that everyone would think he was crazy if he shared his theory with them.

His theory was that the golf balls that had been hit many times, the bruised and rough ones, actually traveled further than the perfectly smooth ones did. Sure enough, he was right: these tiny imperfections create a thin layer of turbulence around the ball, reducing drag and allowing air to flow further and more smoothly around the ball. And that is why today, all golf balls have dimples on them.

John, I know you are afraid of your perceived weaknesses and shortcomings, and you feel like your journey has always taken you up the rough side of the mountain. But when you don’t give up and you don’t give in, the rough side of the mountain actually molds you and shapes you into a person who can travel much further in life, just like those roughed-up golf balls. The blemishes, scars, and setbacks are what give you the character to take you places other people are too soft and smooth to go!”

This new perspective–that hardship molds you into a better person–is a helpful one. You may not receive it as helpful on the day calamity or hardship knocks, but after enough reflection you see this is true.

Many of the greatest things in your life, to say little of the greatest things within you, are the direct result of some of the worst happenings in your life.

Each difficulty made you better. Which is to say, it conformed your character more closely to that of righteousness.

That is at least one part of its job. Among whatever else it may accomplish, one big hairy audacious goal of what you call suffering is to improve you, to sanctify you.

That’s part of why some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. You likely pray for Him to remove or shorten the duration of hardships. In effect, you’re unknowingly praying for Him to remove the very thing He has allowed into your life to make you more like Jesus.

Would you do things differently? You might think that you would this side of things. But you’re missing the one thing crucial thing to making decisions: perspective. God has all the facts. He sees the bigger picture and understands how everything fits together. Since He has all the facts, and you don’t, the wisest course of action is to trust Him when things get hard. Trust Him to sanctify and redeem all your troubles.


Re-Frame Your Thinking

One of the most important skills you can learn is how to reset your mind. Things do not go your way one hundred percent of the time. Things go wrong, often. People cut you off in traffic. Plans change at the last minute. Meetings get canceled. Funding doesn’t come through. People break their word. The unexpected and unexplained are common parts of life.

 You can go on, and on, and on listing things that go wrong in life. Things go wrong on varying levels. Some are small things, and others are bigger issues.

 Your ability to re-frame things within your own mind is a must if you want to succeed. You have to be in control of how you think and where your mind goes, especially when things go south.

 It’s a skill you must master.

You’re on the hunt for excellence. You’re chasing down that big elusive goal of becoming the very best version of you. You’re playing the long game. A game with no end in sight. It only concludes when you shuffle off this mortal coil.

Since the game you’re playing doesn’t have an endpoint, it doesn’t allow failure as an option. Failure flat out doesn’t exist on this road.

Two options are open to you. You either win or you learn.

Re-frame everything in your life as an opportunity for one of these two options.

You know what to do with winning. That’s the easy part.

Seeing everything as an opportunity to learn takes effort. You have to work hard to reorient your mind to see things in this new light.

Re-framing your experiences injects perspective into your life. It helps you take a step back and consider the long-term outcome of any given circumstance. If it won’t impact your life five years from now, why let it bother you today?

You can do this with everything in your life, even the worst of circumstances. In fact, it's most important when things don’t go well.

Jocko Willink sets the best example of this mental re-framing in the video below. A single word summarizes his encouragement. That word is GOOD. Meaning you can find your way to the good in everything. Good is the ultimate in seeing obstacles as opportunities. It's exactly the right way to re-frame negative thoughts.

Paul’s admonishes believers to take, “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5). And that's exactly the type of re-framing we're talking about.  

It may be a mental game, but it's one you’ve got to win. It unlocks a door to navigating the storms of life and reminds you of the power you have to shape your life.