As I walked with the other three women up to the fourth tee, one of the women, Trisha, looked at me quizzically and said, “You must be a sandbagger, you’re playing too well for your handicap.”
My voice caught in my throat; my thoughts a jumble trying to sort through what she’d just said. A sandbagger? I thought. She’s accusing me of cheating and lying?
Though new to the game, I knew that a sandbagger was a person who tried to keep their handicap high by either playing poorly on purpose when not in a tournament or by not turning in their low scores. In golf, the low scores mean the best playing, unlike other games where the highest scores are the goal.
Now as Trisha looked innocently at me as if she’d just said, “Beautiful day, eh?”, I fumbled out explanations like, “I’ve been practicing a lot and taking lessons. My game has really improved.”
Yet, my words seemed so inadequate to try to refute her accusation. And I felt even more confused because she seemed so friendly. Then it was my turn to hit the ball and we all got into our golf carts and headed for our balls. The game continued but my emotions were still back at the fourth tee. What should I have said? She accused me of lying! How can I defend myself? How can I convince her I’m honest? I turn in all my scores.
My thoughts were as scattered as if ten golfers had hit their balls at once and I was supposed to run around trying to retrieve them. And the more I stewed over Trisha’s comment and my inadequacy to answer the charge, the more my muscle memory seemed to lose all they’d learned. I started hitting balls all over the place and my putting went down the drain. No matter how much I tried to tell myself, “Don’t let her comment bother you,” the more my game dissolved. My final score was one of my worse in a long time.
Just a friendly game of golf had become a bad memory, especially since I never did figure out whether Trisha had done it on purpose to mess up my game or had just given a thoughtless comment.
For several months Trisha’s comment bothered me and then one day, I was playing in a golf tournament. Shall I tell you the truth? It was a seniors golf tournament. Quite a revelation to realize I qualified in the “freshman” category of a senior golf tournament but there I was, one of the youngest among 100 women. And I was doing well! My practice the previous day was paying off and I felt more in control of my game than I had in a long time. And then it happened! One of the women I was playing with, asked, “Kathy, what is your handicap again? You sure are playing better than your handicap indicates!”
My heart sank. I could hear the words again of Trisha months before. The emotions I’d been battling started to rise again. Is this woman also accusing me of being a sandbagger?
In that moment, my confidence raised its head and cried out, “No! I’m not going to let this comment bother me! I am improving in my game and I’m honest. I refuse to let this deteriorate my play! Thank you Lord, for Trisha’s comment months ago because now I can handle this comment!”
I wanted to bless Trisha in that moment. I wanted to give her a big hug! Her comment had prepared me for “such a time as this” and I continued playing well and WON SECOND PLACE! I couldn’t believe it! I just knew that Trisha’s comment had protected me from devastation when it really counted—in a tournament!
As a woman in ministry, I’m sure you’ve encountered criticism and misunderstanding. Maybe you couldn’t defend yourself completely and you felt tongue-tied, your thoughts as jumbled as mine. Maybe you couldn’t figure out whether the comment was meant to encourage, instruct, hurt, or wound you. And maybe you successfully dealt with it or maybe you didn’t.
Chalk it up to experience and as God’s opportunity to prepare you for something even more critical later on—to the point that you may feel like you should bless the bearer of the criticism for building you up to face something even more difficult.
God’s promise of using everything for good must also include criticism! Or else I wouldn’t have won that second place prize of a $50 gift certificate to spend at my local golfing store. As I bought some golf clothes with it, I thought, “Bless you Trisha!”