Swing Changes and Life Changes

I’m sitting here watching the Bay Hill Classic and right now Tiger Woods has the 36 hole lead.  It’s been a long few years for Tiger, but he seems to be getting things together just in time for this year’s Masters.  I hope so; I’ve always been a Tiger fan.  I started following Tiger when he was a 15 year old phenom.  By 1997, then just 21 years old, Tiger Woods was on top of the golf world.  He was destroying golf courses like no one had ever seen before.  That year, he played in 21 tournaments, made the cut in 20, won 4 and finished in the top 10 in five others.  He won the Masters by a record 12 strokes over Tom Kite, playing the last 63 holes in an incredible 22 under par!  Who can forget the patented fist pump on the last hole?

After Tiger’s amazing 1997, I couldn’t wait for the 1998 golf season to see what he would do.  So what did he do?  He spent the entire year deconstructing and completely overhauling a golf swing that had just produced one of the most successful seasons in golf history.  I thought he had gone completely crazy and so did much of the golf world.  And, as it turns out, 1998 wasn’t a great year for Tiger.  He won only one tournament and his earnings for that year remain the lowest of his career.  What in the world was he thinking?  Why in the world would he overhaul the purest swing in golf, a swing that was good enough to win the Masters by 12 strokes?  Although Tiger has never really answered the question directly, others have speculated.  But his results since that time have proven his decision to have been a wise one.  In fact, a year after Tiger’s swing overhaul, he put together what are almost certainly the two most dominant seasons in golf history — in 41 tournament starts in 1999 and 2000, Tiger finished in the top 10 in 33 and won 17.  Now that’s strong!  The product of the swing remake was a swing built for even greater success and one that was built to last.  Today, Tiger’s in the midst of yet another swing change.  Apparently, he thinks an overhaul is warranted every 10 years or so.

I think he’s right.  Sometimes what’s gotten us to our happy place, becomes suddenly insufficient to keep us there.  What has worked in the past, suddenly no longer works in the present and is of no help for the future.  Said Laura Winner, in her book, Still:  Notes on a Mid Faith Crisis,:

My friend Ruth’s mother once told her, ‘Every ten years you have to remake everything.’ Reshape yourself. Reorient yourself. Remake everything. What struck Ruth about this was not just the insight but the source: she had imagined that her mother, her steadfast loving mother, was static, was always the same. She didn’t know that her mother had remade everything seven times, eight times. Sometimes the reshaping is not big, not audible; not a move, a marriage, a child, a heroic change of course. Sometimes it is only here inside, how you make sense of things. Sometimes it is only about how you know yourself to be.

Sometimes, swing changes are forced upon us. Death and divorce, for instance, force us not only to come to terms with our loss but to redefine ourselves in relation to the loss. Becoming an empty nester forces us to redefine ourselves in relation to our adult children who not only are not as physically present in our lives but probably don’t need us (or think they need us) as much as they once did. Who are we under those circumstances? How do we define ourselves? Certainly not as we did before the circumstance change.

Sometimes, our spiritual life is in need of a swing change. The nature of our relationship to the devine is dynamic, rarely static. We respond to some of that change with minor tweaks. But there generally comes a time when we realize that the aggregation of change requires a complete remake of our relationship to our higher power. The stories of our youth are no longer compelling, inspiring or even believable and our faith takes a hit and we lose our confidence and begin to sink.

And sometimes, it us that needs a remake.  Sometimes what got us this far, suddenly won’t get us any farther.  Our relationship with ourselves begins to sour and we find ourselves lost and not sure exactly who we are any more.

I think we generally know when it’s time for a remake.  It’s something we can feel. But that doesn’t make it easy.  It’s not easy to remake ourselves.  It’s hard to fix that which isn’t truly broken.  It’s not easy to overhaul a swing that has won us millions of dollars and lots of tournaments or a life that has made us very happy or a faith that has carried us through some really tough times.  But sometimes we have to.  And sometimes we have to do it again and again.

Are you due for a remake?  Am I?  What’s holding us back?  If what got you here won’t get you there, consider overhauling your swing.  It’s hard work.  It’s scary.  But often, it’s necessary.  It’s worked for Tiger.  Several times.  Tee it up.  And let it rip.

Your Turn:  What about you?  Have you made a swing change recently?  Are you in need of one?  What’s holding you back?  Share your thoughts.


The Story of Isaac, Jacob and Kyrie Irving’s Dad.

Genesis 27 (NIV)

18 He went to his father and said, “My father.”

“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”

19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”

“The LORD your God gave me success,” he replied.

21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.”

22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.

“I am,” he replied.

25 Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”

Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”

27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,

“Ah, the smell of my son
is like the smell of a field
that the LORD has blessed.
28 May God give you heaven’s dew
and earth’s richness—
an abundance of grain and new wine.
29 May nations serve you
and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed
and those who bless you be blessed.”

The story of Jacob and Esau is a complicated one and, for the most part, it is a story of complete dysfunction — a youngest born who leverages his older brother’s hunger to swindle him out of his portion of his father’s inheritance; a mother who plays favorites, betrays her husband and cheats her first born child; and a first born who is so profoundly short sighted (or just stupid) that he would throw away his inheritance for a bowl of lintel soup.  But while much of his story seems to be a manual for how NOT to raise children or run a family, we shouldn’t dismiss it entirely.  Maybe there is something in there for us, as Christians and, particularly as Christian parents, after all.  There is, of course, the little nugget at the heart of the story — recently reprinted (albeit in a more modern and updated form) in ESPN the magazine.   It is the story of The Blessing:

“In eighth grade,” Irving said, “my father told me I would wind up as the best guard in the state of New Jersey. In my senior year of high school, he told me I’d be the number one player in the country. Then, in college, he told me I’d be the number one pick in the draft.

“He laid out all the necessary steps for me. It was up to me what I did with them.”

(Former Duke basketball star and current NBA star Kyrie) Irving continues to cement his role as the young cornerstone of the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading all NBA rookies in scoring with 18.1 points a game. (He also dishes out 5.1 assists).

He will be a member of Team Chuck in Friday’s NBA Rising Stars game, the second player selected after Clippers sensation Blake Griffin.

“I thank my father,” Irving said. “He did things the old-school way. No shortcuts. Nothing guaranteed.”

The father swears it was the son who saw it all coming, who wrote down “GOAL: PLAY IN THE NBA” on a slip of paper when he was in the fourth grade and pulled it out whenever someone doubted that a spindly high school freshman barely 5-foot-8 could ever make it to the pros.

Drederick Irving was Kyrie’s measuring stick. Each summer he’d line up against the mark in their home, recording his father’s 6-foot-4 frame.

“I want to be bigger than you,” Kyrie told his dad.

“You will be,” his father promised.

When I read the story of Jacob and Esau, it’s easy for me to get side tracked by the dysfunction in the story and miss the really powerful part — the part about a son desperately seeking his father’s blessing and a father who bestows it (even if the result of trickery) on his son.  So what, exactly, is the blessing?  In his book, The Blessing, author and psychologist John Trent, Phd., describes the Jewish tradition of parents blessing their children in a special ceremony designed to convey genuine acceptance and high value.  Though the blessings were, by their very nature, intended to be uniquely personal to each child, the traditional Jewish blessings shared common elements.  First, was meaningful and appropriate touch — the very act of blessing a child with a warm hug, a tender kiss, maybe a firm handshake or simply a well meaning pat on the back — perhaps the touch that Jesus used as he welcomed children in to his arms in Luke, Chapter 18 — but some sort of meaningful touch or show of affection.  Next was a spoken message — the act of putting in to words the love, feelings, and hopes and aspirations of a parent for their child — an unambiguous statement of love and acceptance and appreciation.  Then the attachment of high value to the one being blessed — telling that person by words or actions that you value them highly, that they are important and necessary.  Next was the picturing of a special future for the one being blessed — telling the child that you believe in them, and know that they will be successful and that you have an idea what that success may look like — essentially painting a visual picture of a happy and prosperous future for a child — a child that is often unable to picture that sort of future for him or herself.  And lastly, making an active commitment to the one being blessed that you will be there for them, actively engaged in helping them realize this future that you have described for them.

Each of the elements of the blessing are, by themselves, very important and Dr. Trent does a great job explaining their significance in his book.  But when I read this article about Kyrie Irving, I couldn’t help but recall the fourth element — the one that has to do with picturing a special future for the one being blessed.  Mr. Irving does it so well and to such great affect.  Just listen to his son.  “In eighth grade, my father told me I would wind up as the best guard in the state of New Jersey.”  Kyrie’s dad described the future, Kyrie saw it with his own mind’s eye and believed it.  And it happened.  “In my senior year in high school, he told me I’d be the number one (high school) player in the country.”  Dad described it, Kyrie imagined it, and, again, it happened.  “Then, in college, he told me I’d be the number one pick in the draft.”  Which, predictably, led NBA Commissioner David Stern to say a few years later, “With the number one pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select Kyrie Irving from Duke University.”  Kyrie’s dad believed in Kyrie and Kyrie believed his dad.  So when his dad told him that he would do great things, that he could see Kyrie’s future and it was bright, Kyrie believed it and set about the hard work of making it happen.

 That’s powerful stuff.  What an incredible opportunity we have to bless a child!  Maybe our own, but maybe not.  The opportunity to tell a child that we believe in them.  That we think they can be somebody important and somebody who can and will do good and maybe even great things.  The opportunity to help a child see into the future — a future that is bright and optimistic where the child is not powerless but in control.  The opportunity to show a child a successful future and to help them get there, self confident and believing in themselves.  Perhaps one of our most Christ like qualities is the ability to speak things in to being.  It sure seems like that’s what Kyrie Irving’s dad did for him.  That’s quite a blessing.  Congratulations, Mr. Irving.  Well done.

NBA — His father laid out the plan, Kyrie Irving followed it – ESPN.