Tiger Woods

“Thank God, Tiger now realizes that he is human, just like the rest of us.” 

That was my initial thought last Friday after watching Tiger Wood’s first public statement since going underground in mid-November.  Woods is arguably the most famous athlete in the world.  His golfing skills have delighted millions of people around the globe.  We’ve admired his dedication to his wife, Elin, and his two young children.  And we’ve given thanks for the children and youth who have benefitted from the Tiger Woods Foundation.

I was as disappointed and angry as anyone else when Tiger’s double life unraveled.  Tiger wasn’t who he portrayed himself to be, which is perhaps the ultimate betrayal.  Of course, Tiger is not unique, for this is the human condition.  “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  (I John 1:8)  Try as we might, you and I cannot live healthy, integrated lives that reflect the goodness of God by our own effort.  The only difference between us and Tiger is that our sins, shortcomings, and failures are not played out on an international stage.

I was deeply moved by Tiger’s statement on Friday, which was an important milestone in his transformation.

  • Tiger accepted full responsibility for his behavior.  He took the courageous step of acknowledging to the world that he was unfaithful to his wife, hurt his children, and let down his fans.  He blamed no one but himself and admitted that he had a lot to atone for.
  • In searching his heart, Tiger came to the realization that his actions were partly the result of a sense of entitlement, the belief that the rules didn’t apply to one of the richest and most admired persons in the world.  Tiger took advantage of his fame to satisfy his own selfish desires.
  • Tiger realized that his disintegration (“to destroy the integrity of”) was partly the result of falling away from Buddhism, the faith which he was taught by his mother, who is from Thailand.  Tiger said, “Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security.  It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint.  Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught.” 
  • Tiger has sought help for his problems.  He has already received 45 days of inpatient therapy and is returning to therapy this week.  Tiger said that he is learning the importance of cultivating his spirituality and keeping a good balance between his professional and personal life.
  • Tiger knows that he is the one who has to change and that it is not his words but his behavior over time that will confirm his deep desire to change.

Was it a coincidence that Tiger made his statement just 2 days after Ash Wednesday?  Probably, since Tiger was raised as a Buddhist.  However, for those of us who claim Jesus as our Savior, the beginning of Lent should occasion a confession that is very similar to Tiger’s. 

I received the imposition ashes two times last Wednesday, once with the cabinet in the morning and again in the evening at a local church.  I suspect God knew that I needed a double dose of both confession and pardon.  Ash Wednesday is the one of the most profound days in the Christian year, as we pray the words of David in Psalm 51,

            “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”

You and I are no different than Tiger Woods.  We, too, continually turn away from the One who created us and loves us.  We, too, follow our own thoughtless desires and do not lead with our heart.  We, too, act out of entitlement.  How might our lives be strengthened and our worship experience deepened if we prayed this prayer every Sunday, “Merciful God, we have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy.  Forgive us, we pray.  Free us for joyful obedience.”

Hearing and praying the liturgy of the church is a vital part of our spiritual formation, just as Tiger Woods understood that his disconnection from the teachings of Buddhism contributed to his difficulties.  “Liturgy” comes from the Greek word leitourgia, which means “public work” or “work of the people.”  Liturgy originally referred to the “work” of the Hebrews in theTemple.  The early Christian church added a new dimension to liturgy by viewing it as a structured worship ritual centering around the themes of praise, covenant, fellowship, and servanthood.

In my Sunday morning travels around the district, I’ve discovered that many of our churches are moving away from formal liturgy to a more informal worship structure.  Some pastors and congregations believe that by simplifying worship, they are better able to attract the unchurched.  However, I am convinced that what people long for more than anything else is a deeper connection with God and each other, which is precisely the gift that liturgy offers.

Where has the Lord’s Prayer gone in Sunday morning worship?  Where have the confession and assurance of pardon gone?  Where have congregational litanies and responsive prayers gone?  Where have the great hymns of our faith gone?  Could it be that recovering the “work of the people” is a key to regaining the richness of our Christian history and tradition?  Could it be that people don’t want to be entertained in worship but rather desire to cultivate a personal and corporate spirituality that will help them lead a grounded, balanced, and integrated life?  This is a key aspect of theEmergentChurch movement.  That’s also what I heard Tiger say on Friday when I read between the lines.

I have no illusions that change will be easy for Tiger.  Any addiction, including sexual addiction, demands humility, perseverance, honesty, commitment, and a willingness to seek help.  There will be short and long term consequences to his behavior, but with forgiveness comes redemption, freedom, and strength to accept those consequences.  On Friday Tiger was clear about what he needs for transformation to take place in his life.  It’s what we need as well.

  • We need to recover our own spirituality, which is vividly lived out as we participate in Lenten disciplines.  “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”  (1 Timothy 4:6  New Living Translation)
  • We need to be honest about our sins at the same time as we claim God’s unconditional grace.
  • We need the help of others not to protect us but to encourage us and hold us accountable.  The greatest gift that I receive when I am out of balance or disconnected from my heart is gentle admonishment from those I love and respect.
  • We need for our words and actions to be congruent.
  • We need to participate in the “work of the people,” where God gives us room in our hearts to believe in others and for others believe in us.

After Tiger made his statement, he embraced his mother, who whispered in his ear, “I’m so proud of you.  Never think you stand alone.  Mom will always be there for you, and I love you.” 

Tiger Woods hasn’t announced when he will rejoin the PGA Tour.  I love to watch Tiger compete, but I don’t care when he returns to golf.  I care more about Tiger taking the time he needs to rediscover his true self.  Some things are more important than golf.

Blessings, Laurie

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