Tiger Woods coming back to victory…Notre Dame burning down to ashes…none of it expected…all of it last Sunday. As I watched the newscast, I was captivated…in one scene the real-time destruction of a holy and magnificent place thousands have visited over the centuries, and in another, the amazing athletic comeback of an individual.
I found my reaction to the simultaneous scenes to be surprising. I had the privilege of visiting Paris and Notre Dame at age 18. It was spectacular. It was one of the many cathedrals I visited in that time of my travel abroad. I did not personally know the love of Jesus Christ at the time. I stood there staring under those very large ceilings in awe of a God bigger than me; in awe of the care, the detail, the history. As beautiful as it was, and with all due respect, my time in this breathtaking place did not change or transform my heart. But I watched flames engulf this iconic landmark in real time with my mouth wide open.
Notre Dame is a place I’ve personally been. My feet have walked there. Tiger is a man I’ve never met, a complete stranger. Yet, if we’re honest, we’ve all walked in his footsteps, haven’t we? The success, the highs, the mistakes, the shame, the behind-the-scenes effort when no one else is looking, the loss of loved ones, the injury, the despair, the perseverance, the come back…those footsteps have touched and transformed us as we’ve personally walked them.
Over the last decade as we’ve watched Tiger’s legacy burn much like the cathedral of Notre Dame, there’s one scene we probably all remember off the course. It was his wife hitting his car with a golf club after finding out his unfaithfulness.
So as I watched the newscast, my fingers started typing…there was one burning question…it surprisingly wasn’t the cause of the fire in Paris. It was, where was Elin, Tiger’s ex-wife, the mother of the son who hugged him tight? Having missed the Masters and having been out of the loop since that golf club incident, I was frantically googling if she was there. Was she proud of him? Was there ever reconciliation? Was she cheering in her heart? What happened with all of that mess?
The athletic comeback is so inspiring. There’s nothing like these stories. We’ve seen it with Tiger; we’ve seen it with Michael Phelps…the talent, the fall, the lonely moments in the shadows, then the growth, wisdom and unshakeable determination that drives the comeback, of more value to victory than sheer talent. All that to say, I couldn’t help but think of Elin. The question ran through my mind; why did I care so much?
I think it’s because when everything else burns away at the end of time, we are left with the people we love, the people in our lives, our family, our marriage. Those are the places where we’re really cheering for a comeback. If we look through the rubble and ash of our life stories, I think what we long to see resurrected the most are the hearts of loved ones. We long for miraculous reconciliation where there has been fracture. We deeply desire to hear the genuine words, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”
Buildings will burn, success will be forgotten, and we are left with our relationships with each other and God. We are so much His treasure that He says our hearts are the place His Holy Spirit now dwells. We are the temples of the living God. Perhaps that’s why my heart was drawn to the comeback of Tiger more than the burning of Notre Dame in that moment.
There’s little I could find about Elin last Sunday. It didn’t appear she was there. And that’s okay. Theirs is not my story to write, far more complex than I can see, and redemption doesn’t always come in the way we would script it or want it to look. It belongs to God, not to us. But I think my desperate desire to find a photo of her cheering for Tiger perhaps points to our deepest hope. For our defining moments not to be the ones of betrayal, for a love that is bigger than our mistakes, for the people we’ve hurt up close and the God we’ve betrayed to, by the miracle of grace, still want to pull for us.
I can understand why Elin hit Tiger with a golf club. I understand the desire to hit people over the head too. I also know that I’ve broken the Lord’s heart like that. I know the anger I deserve for some of the poor choices I’ve made.
What’s harder to understand is grace.
In this startling picture of Notre Dame after the fire, the cross remained.
Isn’t that breathtaking? Jesus doesn’t beat us over the head. He doesn’t walk away either. He does the unthinkable…He stands in our place and takes the beating Himself. The earth shook and darkness covered the land in the middle of the day when he died. It was far more gruesome than the scene of that fire. He did it for us. His head hung low so He could lift ours high, not to look away in shame, but to see we are loved far more than we can ever imagine. We’re His treasure, our worth determined by Him, not by our failures and successes. All that’s left of our sin and mess-ups is that cross. At the end of the day, that’s the story. It’s the miracle of the story. It’s the crux of the story.
But, it’s not the end of the story.
We can look around today and see newness of life and spring everywhere; we can worship the Risen Lord and praise Him for the fullness of grace, for our inheritance, for His victory, for His personal mercy and love, for coming out of that grave to rescue us…
We can also look around and quickly see things that break our heart. Another death, divorce, sickness, the pain of poverty, the struggles of loved ones…
Today we wait in hope knowing this…He deeply cares about the things that break our hearts. And, the story is not over.
There will be a final end to death, grieving, the darkness, pain and tears. The brokenness of this world will be made whole, new…
We celebrate the resurrection and we hang onto Jesus’s last words,
“Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:20)
He has promised us…a comeback. Maybe that’s why it gripped my heart more than the fire on Sunday. Beauty instead of ashes. That’s His promise; that’s our hope.
*photos by AP Images, Getty, EPA, USA Today Sports, CBC News