Sunday, when I watched the scene above, it was like watching the turning point of a horror film. You know the point - the one where the monster turns his knife or gun or chainsaw and points it at unsuspecting victims. The jovial party or friendly camping trip turns to screams and blood. You want to close your eyes, yet you don't; you wonder why on earth you're still watching yet you don't dare turn away.
For amateur golf fans I'll describe the scene. Jordan Spieth was leading one of the biggest golf tournaments in the world - the British Open - birthplace of the game itself. Spieth sprayed a shot 37 light years to the right. It landed on top of a Southport, England towering mound of knee-high fescue grass. I'm still not sure how anyone found the ball; I guess having a few thousand fans around makes it easier for a Spieth to find his errant shot than a Keith to find one of his hacking around a local public course.
As I watched the scene unfold I began feeling sorry for Spieth. His lead was about to turn into another choke story like the one that's haunted him since he imploded and lost the 2016 Masters. I wasn't the only one thinking that. You could hear anguish in the television announcers' voices. And any intelligent golf bettor on the planet would have wagered against Spieth winning the tournament in that moment. No, all logical bets said we were all about to see a reenactment of Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy on the 18th hole of the US Open.
Those bets would have been lost. Because we now know one mind on that course wasn't going where ours were going. While we were thinking up great choke lines to tweet Spieth was still planning his victory celebration. And celebrate he did. He not only finished that hole 2 or 3 strokes better than anyone thought he would, he went on to play the final 5 holes historically and memorably great.
How does someone do that? When all the evidence in the world points to losing how does someone get their mind to press on undaunted in its pursuit of victory?
I remember mile 20 of my marathon last November. My legs were failing. I was so far behind the rest of the runners that I suddenly felt like I was staggering alone and lost in a dessert and not one of thousands of competitors in a race. I'd never run further than 20 miles and there was no physical evidence to suggest it could happen this day. Certainly not 6 miles further!
Then a song comes on my iPod. Over and over it begins to sing out "who can stop the Lord almighty?"
For the next 6 miles that became the question playing over and over in my mind: who can stop the Lord almighty? And for 6 miles my mind kept answering, no one - no one. My body, my current situation, everything suggested everyone can stop Him, but my mind kept insisting no one.
We forget that some days. Our body responds to the demands of our mind. It's not the other way around. That's not to say our bodies can do everything our minds demand of it, but it is to say our bodies can do NOTHING our minds DON'T believe they can and will get done.
After the tournament Spieth credited his caddie for helping him when he started getting down on himself. He had a caddie. I had a song. I think the important thing to recognize here is at times we all need to surround ourselves with people who will keep our minds pointed in the right direction as much as we need people who keep us physically aligned with victory. I believe we need the former much more.
Have you ever had a Jordan Spieth moment? Maybe in your athletic life, a relationship, or career. All the evidence in the world suggested things were about to fall apart but your mind said, in the words of colorful college football analyst Lee Corso: "not so fast my friend." And if so, who or what helped your mind press on, undaunted in its pursuit of success?
I'm a runner. Many days that means I'm looking to the future: the next race, the finish line of that race, or my house that sits at the end of the current training session for that race. The temptation to look ahead never leaves a runner's side.
That's usually not a good thing.
First, let me say I see a difference between looking ahead and having a goal. Having a goal means I have an outcome in mind tied to my current effort. Looking ahead means in the midst of my current effort my mind has drifted to the goal and I'm no longer as open to the possibilities of what I'm currently engaged in.
I've experience this in my work life. For years I stayed focused on the next promotion. So much of my daily effort was centered on doing things that might expedite my way to the next position instead of soaking up everything I could and being grateful for the one I was in. Today, I thankfully spend far more time exploring the possibilities of my current jobs instead of imagining how much better life would be in the next one.
I've experienced this in my spiritual life. To many, Christianity is a means to the end. Follow Jesus and you'll inherit everlasting life. True. There is an ultimate life finish line. But I went through a period in my faith journey when I spent a lot of time rationalizing less than Christ-like behavior by telling myself I had plenty of time to make up for it before I arrived at the finish line. That thinking reduced Jesus to a ticket I could present at the pearly gates instead of a relationship I could lean on here and now. One that has delivered me inexplicable peace - daily.
And it's true. Many days I experience it in my running journey. I spend upwards of 4 months training for one race. But I find myself spending a majority of those months focused on the final time on the clock as I run across the finish line. I trade away hours of reflection and gratitude and the possibilities that come with each and every stride I take preparing for a race for the dreams of what might happen in the single moment I cross that race's finish line.
The finish line of our careers, faith, and running can be great motivation. More often than not, though, I'm afraid where we long to be eats away at the joy of where we are. When we focus on the sensations that come with getting a promotion, or walking through the gates of heaven, or running across the finish line in record time, we undermine the magical moments that happen in our day to day efforts. We somehow make insignificant things that were never meant to be insignificant at all.
So, have goals. Picture the finish line. But know the moment you're in might be a much bigger treasure.
Don't miss it.
Over the last several years I've written a lot about my running journey. Much of what I've written points to the idea that running has drawn me closer to God. Several people have come right out and asked me and I'm sure even more have wondered: how on earth can running be a spiritual experience.
It's a fair question. Just a few short years ago I would have called mixing God and running as logical as mixing gasoline and a forest fire. Some things just don't naturally fit together. But that was before I actually became a runner. It was before I started noticing that countless scriptures in the bible drive home spiritual messages with running metaphors.
For the last several weeks I've been listening to a series of sermons in church teaching on 2 Timothy chapter 4. This is the final letter the apostle Paul ever wrote - quite possibly the parting words he wanted to be most remembered by. It's a letter filled with those running metaphors I referenced above. As part of the teaching on that letter last week the pastor made the point that a dead battery can't recharge itself from within. It is dependent on an external source of energy to become recharged.
I think that analogy helped me understand clearer than ever how my running journey is connected to my relationship with God. No matter how hard I train, no matter how well I eat, no matter how perfect the running conditions are, I always reach a point in my run when I wonder how much further I can go. All the energy I've managed to store up in my own physical being eventually runs out and I'm forced to turn to an external source of power.
Here's where it gets tricky. When the running gets hard, and I dare say when life gets hard, we all want to be able to turn to a source of power we trust to pull us through. Trust is the key isn't it? Because it's our complete faith in the source that actually unleashes it's power.
I suppose I have an advantage in discovering my one true source of power. I spent a large portion of my life experimenting with false sources that eventually proved to be useless, if not destructive.
Then one day I started leaning on God. It's obviously a much longer story than that, but the only part of the story that really matters here is I now know my source of power. And I only have one, always present, never adapting source. When my battery is running low I know where to get it recharged every time. Whether I'm talking to Him or focusing on his presence, I'm more prepared than ever to run through, around and over fatigue. There's an efficiency that happens in life when you start ruling out the things that don't recharge your battery, that don't help you find healthy ways to conquer life and running fatigue.
The beauty with God is he's a one stop battery charging station. Whether my being a dad battery is running low or my ability to get along with a co-worker is fading fast or my country's views on politics are draining my every last bit of tolerance - and even when I'm at mile 20 of a marathon wondering where on earth one more single stride can possibly come from - God is always there, arms and hands lovingly and patiently extended - holding jumper cables.
I get that my true power source might not be yours. I get that your running journey might not be a spiritual one. But if you ever find the power sources you lean on are fading or fickle, they no longer point you in a better and more refreshed direction, I'd love to tell you more about mine. You might find yourself running further and faster than you ever dreamed of.
Life is like running.