I am fascinated by the man we simply call Tiger. What I respect most is his never-ending quest for perfection on the golf course. He is the best golfer in the world and still continues to relentlessly strive to improve his game. We can all learn from his work ethic as we strive to enhance our own God-given talents.
However, recently many of us also took pleasure in ridiculing Tiger Woods. We reveled in stories about his numerous mistresses and purported $750 million divorce settlement. The circus-like media feeding frenzy made for great entertainment as we momentarily ignored our own short comings and jumped on the paparazzi bandwagon. However, if we are honest as we unpeel our own onion, we must all admit that Tiger’s failings are at times also ours.
In retrospect it is clear that Tiger became enslaved to his own ego. Instead of asking, “Who can I serve today?” he mistakenly assumed that the world was his oyster – he was entitled to “consume” all that he desired. Sadly, my guess is that Tiger can closely and belatedly relate to the words of the contemplative writer, Thomas Merton, “What a strange thing? In fulfilling myself I had emptied myself. In grasping things, I had lost everything. In devouring pleasures and joys, I had found distress, anguish, and fear.”
The point is not to judge a fallen hero but rather to utilize this very public hanging to courageously illuminate the failings of our own lives as we seek to live a life of significance; to honestly examine the rubbish hidden within our own personal cellar. It is a reminder of just how easy it is to become inward- focused as we push God and others out of the center of our lives. As lapsed Christian and Air Force fighter pilot Howard Rutledge ruefully acknowledged after being shot down and captured by the enemy in the Vietnam conflict, it took prison to show how empty his life is without God. He observed, “My hunger for spiritual food outdid my hunger for a steak.”
When we are unmindful of our special status as God’s baptized, it is easy for all of us to live in the “insanity” of our sin. We lose sight of the importance of our relationship with God and we hurt those who we love the most – in Tiger’s case – his family. Rather than denying ourselves and taking up our cross, as Jesus demands, we live with what Eckhart Tolle calls an “illusion of self.”
However, when Christ is in the center and forefront of our lives we are able to distinguish between our cravings and our true needs. We are able to naturally move from asking, “How do I want to live out my life?” to “How does God want me to live out my life?” Our autopilot becomes, “Who can I serve today?”
In my role at Lutheran Social Services, I am honored and humbled to be surrounded by society’s true heroes – the staff, foster families, and dedicated volunteers who day-in and day-out care and sacrifice on behalf of our clients and each other in a myriad of mundane and unsexy actions. They understand that true Christian love is merely a preference of others over one’s self. Like a beautiful piece of art, they weave their work and faith together in a way that mirrors God’s image here on earth. Yes, it is they (and not our media-hyped celebrities) who are our true role models as they and we live a life of significance in service to others.
Dr. Kurt Senske is chief executive officer of Lutheran Social Services of the South and author of The Calling: Live a Life of Significance (forthcoming, November, 2010)