When Tiger Woods hugged his son after winning his fifth Masters, America’s eyes were glued on them. He squeezed his boy on the same spot his own father hugged him when his dominance began 22 years earlier. Even disinterested people had to know something bigger than a golf tournament just took place.
Woods’ emotional grip on his son culminated a journey back from the sports-dead. He survived an odyssey through self-inflicted moral and broken-body physical drama. The man who walked through throngs of cheering fans on Sunday reflected a man with new perspective. A man humbled by the chance to experience the satisfying relief not just of victory, but also redemption.
If you’ve paid any attention lately, Tiger Woods has the air of a changed man. Somewhere in the debris of what Woods called “some really dark, dark times,” he began to change. He gained perspective, even wisdom. “I felt I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them. I was wrong. I was foolish.” That’s usually the language of someone starting to get it.
The difficulty of a Masters win, while a great achievement, pales in comparison to the difficulty of admitting fault and moving in a different direction. This week Tiger Woods won the Masters; but sometime in the last few years he might also have acquired the humility to win at life. What can we learn?
We can remember that choices matter.
One single choice can devastate a life. The choice to cheat on your spouse instead of staying faithful. The choice to medicate instead of meditate. The choice to quit instead of try again. The choice to listen to the voices trying to kill, steal, and destroy instead of the voices that bring life.
And one choice in the right direction can heal. The choice to admit wrongdoing. To get help. The choice to ask for forgiveness. To grant it. The choice to restart with God—or at least humble our heart so we even have a chance at hearing Him.
Choices matter. A choice today will set the trajectory for and have implications far into the future. But choices are not final. A bad choice yesterday may bring unavoidable consequences. But a good choice today can still transcend further pain.
Like Tiger Woods, things I regret doing a decade ago stay with me. Still, they don’t have to determine my outcome. Indeed, along with pain they bring wisdom, and a new approach to today.
We need to be reminded that change happens one choice at a time. No singular moment—whether good or bad—defines our life. Across decades, Woods has publicly seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Privately he’s made devastating choices affecting his own life and others’. He’s rightfully deserved scorn, abandonment, and rejection.
But he’s also made choices to admit wrong. He’s known patience and longing. Hopelessness and regret. And he worked to make good choices in the midst of those feelings. He knows what resilience means. He has held onto both his family and his mind in pursuit of a comeback.
We can remember that our own hearts are full of self-righteousness.
It takes a certain measure of self-righteous audacity to root against Tiger Woods, hoping to see his misery and struggle continue. He’s been publicly guilty of the worst of today’s social sins—lying, womanizing, being elitist, being arrogantly smug. It’s a list that’s satisfying to judge, especially from a perceived place of moral superiority. In the midst of much celebration, plenty of his past still circulates on social media. Even after Woods’ comeback.
I suppose we all have something of this in us—it’s part of our heritage as humans. Knee jerk judgment comes easy. It’s easy to ignore our own hearts when judging others’.
The prodigal’s older brother couldn’t stand the thought of his sinful brother being showered with blessing. Jonah resented God and hated the Ninevites when they repented. The Pharisees were always ready to cast the first stone. We love judgment for wrongdoing, as long as it isn’t directed at us: “Judgment for others, mercy for us.”
But if we find ourselves slogging through awareness of shortcoming and brokenness, we cheer for Tiger Woods because he’s a larger-than-life version of ourselves. At its juicy core, isn’t his story just our story? Entitlement. Lust. Lies. Betrayal. Addiction. Shame. Pride. Fear. Broken relationships.
The worst of his story amplifies the worst found in all of us at different times and in different ways. We operate with different amounts of money, resources, and attention, but it’s all the same stuff.
And it produces the same results: broken body, broken emotions, broken spirit.
Maybe that’s why so many people wind up cheering for Woods after all. If you have eyes to see, you’re just as broken as he is. No matter how he did it, his ability to overcome his wasteland gives hope for our own healing.
We can remember that things can change.
My friend Dan Miller uses the phrase “transforming reversals of fortune” to describe how God brings beauty and blessing from the broken moments of our lives, whether we seek Him for them or not.
God makes the crooked paths of our lives straight. He takes the twists and turns of our sinful history and makes something useful, to great effect and great surprise.
And sometimes, when hope is all but lost, when everything seems broken beyond repair, the unexpected quasi-miracle happens. And we’re transformed.
We don’t win an $11 million tournament—we get something better. We see the world differently. Love a little better. We’re kinder. We take time to fist bump a kid. Low five a security guard. Smile and laugh when there are things to be happy about instead of constantly being critical. We forgive—others and ourselves. We appreciate the moment and stop striving. We’re still—and we know there is a God.
We can remember that we desperately need redemption.
Some would call Tiger Woods winning the Masters an example of common grace, a moment where God gives a good blessing to someone without regard for that person’s relationship to Him. I’m not in a position to say. But it’s definitely another reminder of our need for redemption.
It’s a picture of good coming out of bad when all hope was nearly lost. It’s a reminder that the story is never quite finished until it really is over. And that God has ways when there seems to be none.
Woods didn’t verbalize glory to God in his post-Masters speeches or give a theological explanation for his return. But for those with eyes to see, his story illustrates redemption.
What a wonderful irony: A sports icon experiencing a humanly redemptive moment the same week of the greatest spiritual redemption story in history. Tiger’s story resonates with us because we’re hardwired to desperately need saving from ourselves. And we all know it.
It resonates with us because we intuitively know when we’re seeing the long shadow of our greatest need cast in real time. We need our brokenness fixed. Often we need our legacy restored. We need the affirmation of our father, and the unconditional love of our kids. All because of our inability to live our story perfectly.
Each day, events in our own lives remind us of our futile quest to bring about our own righteousness. Sometimes people in popular culture experience a moment that reminds us that, at the hand of God, blessing can arise out of the ashes of our lives.
And once a year, at Easter, we’re reminded that there’s really no other way to be whole. That the redemption, the restoration we most need was accomplished in the most surprising way possible. And that God reversed everyone’s fortune at the cross, where transformation is still possible today.
Copyright © 2019 Ed Uszynski. All rights reserved.
Ed Uszynski has a PhD in American culture studies. He and his wife Amy speak at the Weekend to Remember getaway®. You can find him on twitter @Uszynski32.