The story (I love it) goes something like this:
Towards the tail-end of the colonization of India by England, British businessmen built a golf course in the capital city of Calcutta. It was a remarkable course, beautifully constructed and a pleasure to play, except for one thing: the local monkeys.
Who could have imagined the wild amusement that golfers would provide the area’s primates? Who could ever have anticipated that after every drive from the tee-box (“Jolly good shot!”) a hoard of monkeys would screech down the fairway, snatch up the little white ball, and advanced it high into the canopy of trees? Ha! Ha! Ha! What fun!
As you can imagine this was for zero fun for the proper British golfers in desperate need of a break from so much colonizing. And so the builders of the course tried everything in their power to keep the waxing number of monkeys out and the waning number of paying customers in.
They erected expensive fences and barricades and set out elaborate monkey traps. They shot to tranquilize and deport. But nothing was effective and it became evident that the monkeys were there to stay.
And so they decided that If You Can’t Beat ‘Em Then Join ‘Em and a new rule was implemented for all golfers on the Calcutta course which stated: “Always play the ball from where the monkey drops it.”
I love this story for lots of reasons, one being that it’s a helpful visual to hold in mind while raising my certain, ahem, Type-A children. What teen doesn’t need to be reminded that he needs to be able to play the ball from wherever the monkey dropped it?! It’s beautiful.
But another reason I like this story is that it can be an additional tool to help examine my inner conversations and motivations during the season of Lent.
If I’m quiet and honest before God today, what is my default demeanor when things are well beyond my control? What is my general attitude as I tromp around the chiggered woods, scan the tree-tops, and wait for my stolen ball to drop down so I can play on?
If someone were wearing my attitude as I played my ball from deep in the rough, would I be impressed? Would I be drawn to them? Would I want to know their secret?
If I’m honest before God, who do I think is at fault for the fact that I can’t play through my day in relative peace? God knows I paid my dues to be here and I’m doing my best. It would be nice if the Management would do his job and at least control the bloody monkeys.
Sometimes, you guys, it’s not our awful play or our poor decisions that put us into the rough of life. Sometimes it’s just the monkeys. But the attitude we wear; the tone we take; the patience we put on (or don’t) while we’re waiting to play on, reveals the underlying frustration we have with the lot we’ve been given.
If I’m honest, the attitude I put on often reveals that I’m discontent with my circumstances; that I’m disappointed with my position over here in the knee-deep mud, and, frankly, that I’m displeased with a God who is fine with letting monkeys run amok all over his course and ruin the game for everyone, most especially me.
Surely I could do better if I were in charge?
Look around. Who’s on the course with you now? What would they say is most true of you when you’ve been forced to wait in a place or position where you don’t want to be?Are you humble enough to ask God for his ready help – not to rid you of the monkeys – but to make your spirit more alive and attentive and responsive as you play on?
Look around again. What is your lot in life and who’s in it with you? What do they observe about you when you’ve done everything right but your ball’s *over there* and it’s not even your fault? How do they see you respond when you’re staring up a tree at the rear-end of a monkey, waiting for him to drop your ball so that you can play on?
Shalom friends, because the season of Lent is your faithful friend and she is mine too.
If we are willing the days and work of Lent can help illuminate our fiercely protected victimhood status, our intemperate impatience, our desire for control, and our constant justification for so much Murmuring and Grumbling at the lot we’ve been given.
And this illumination is a good thing! Because when we begin to see ourselves as we really are we realize that the monkeys are not the problem and neither is the Management.
No, the problem is that I want peace and shalom on my own terms. I expect to be rewarded with a solid position in the center of the fairway for my hitting the ball straight, far, long, and well. Don’t I deserve at least one afternoon of ease on a course free of monkeys?
Shalom friends, because God our Father doesn’t give us what we deserve, he gives us what we need. And what we need is not a life free of monkeys, but a life that is awake and alive to the Management who loves us, and keeps us, and from whom all true blessings flow.
Peace to you and yours today as you play,
PS. The story above was originally recorded by a protestant minister (Rev. Gregory Knox Jones) and has been re-told in books, sermons, podcasts, and everywhere in between.