Playing the Game Until the Last Hole

Playing the Game Until the Last Hole

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


“Face it, we’re playing the back nine.”

Although I do not play golf, I understood what he was saying. To a golfer, the phrase refers to the last nine holes played in an 18-hole round of golf. To my friend, who is the same age as I am, it had a far different meaning.

He was reflecting that his game—his life—was in the last years. There was a certain wistfulness in his tone. He was clearly thinking, on some level, about his mortality. He’s always been a happy-go-lucky kind of a guy. So it was a surprise to hear him make the comment.

We talked about the reality. We were both reaching that point in life when it is natural to reflect on where we have been, what we have done, and what difference our lives have made. So the comment itself was not bothersome. What was, and what is, bothersome, is the tone I heard in it. The wistfulness suggested that he might be buying into the cultural assumption that as we age we lose our usefulness, and our purpose. It is the assumption that the best is over. The end of the game is in sight. Playing the back nine inevitably leads to the end of the game. There is fatalism inherent in that attitude that runs completely counter to the Gospel. It denies the Gospel promise of fulfilled life, a promise that does not come with an expiration date.

The fatalism seems unaware that many a game is won in the back nine.

At a recent memorial service for a 100-year-old resident of Bishop Wicke Health Center, person after person shared their memories of Mary. All of them bore witness to Mary’s life at Wesley Village, where she had lived for 26 years. Mary came to us as an independent living resident, moved a few years later into our assisted living apartments, and seven years ago moved into Bishop Wicke for long-term care.

At every level she thrived. She became part of the fabric of the community, taking part in and/or leading various events. She was clearly in the back nine 26 years ago, but did not see the rest of her life as meaningless, or simply a time to kick back and wait for the inevitable. She engaged people, conversing about all sorts of things. She embraced each segment of the Wesley Village community as her home, and she refused to become fatalistic.

Our chapel was filled to capacity with staff and residents who had been with her in the back nine. Everyone of them would tell you, that despite the physical results of the aging process, she lived knowing that life in the moment determined the meaning and purpose of her life, not the life that was lived in the front nine.

Those of us ministering to/with older adults do well to remember the reality. The game is not over until it is over. We need to bear witness that wherever we are on the golf course, the strokes we take can make all the difference in the outcome. We are called to play the game to the end. A tall order to witness to those in pain or with severe physical limitations, but still the only way to victory! Ministering to/with older adults presents different challenges, perhaps none greater than reminding each individual that the day at hand is the day to which they have been called, and it can be embraced. It can be day of growth and fulfillment.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2012 Rev. James Stinson