Returning From Exile
by Pete Haynes

 

As he walked out of the clubhouse he realized he had the entire golf course to himself. "My luck," he murmured, "any other time I would've loved to have the whole green, alone." He was hoping to see one of his friends here. Maybe they could make some sense out of things. Such would not be the case today. The weatherman had warned of a real drencher this afternoon. But he hadn't paid much attention.

As he teed off, and then moved down the fairway, his mind wandered. "Perhaps I should write a book," he thought, "the title could be: When Things Fall Apart." Very fitting, everything was not working out like he hoped, like he had carefully planned.

After so many years of college he came to this area to start a pharmacy. Beginnings were very gradual, he didn't want to get in the trap of borrowing more than was necessary. That was how he got through school: shrewd investment and timing.

He had married his high school sweetheart, Christine, and for the first couple years of marriage they worked like dogs to save a nest egg. Carefully they planned and carried out the years of college, making sure there was plenty of time to earn more. They also planned and had two children, with a third on its way after graduation. Things were tight, but they made it. It didn't hurt to receive an inheritance from Christine's family.

The pharmacy started slowly, but the careful planning gradually paid off. The eagle eye he kept on the Wall Street Journal and his other sources, was reaping profits from investments. They were moving up.

His game was going too bad, he was managing to keep up with par after 3 holes. Maybe his game was improving.

The kids grew, he tried being a good father, trying to keep them financially secure, but also wanting to spend time with them, to watch them grow. As the family grew, they carefully invested in a new home in a nice neighborhood. Just down the road was a nice-looking church. Many influential people in town were members there. It made sense to include membership in that church in their plans. Not much was required to be a member. And the people were pretty friendly. Maybe the kids would get something out of it and so they joined.

Christine and him had been baptized as youngsters, back in their home town. They could re-affirm their faith in Jesus Christ. They could support the church, even though it had some funny teachings. At the service where they were received into the church, the minister asked a third question. Something about promising to live and share in Christian fellowship, give, receive Christian love, sharing and bearing one another's joy and pain. They could do that, as long as it didn't get too personal.

They were members there a long time. It was kind of nice at first. They went every Sunday, even participated in other activities as well as accepted some duties. But, ever so gradually, they started participating less and less. It became inconvenient... and besides, there was something in the back of his mind that told him "either you're totally committed, or you're not." As he looked around at his fellow members there didn't appear to him to be very many who were very committed. But then, he wasn't there long enough to see everything. He and Christine and the kids, one by one, were members on the list, putting in appearances when it suited. But the church could run without them. It was well planned and carefully operated. It was a good investment. But not good enough for too much of their time.

The last few holds had not gone well. A double-boogey put him back twice. The game was heading downhill...fast. It seemed the better that things became with the pharmacy, the worse his marriage was. One day he managed to set aside and look at their relationship. Something had to happen, a divorce, perhaps, though he still loved Christine. Their arguing had come to dominate their time together, so they spent more and more time apart. It was easier that way. Their marriage had become like a business in which both partners are in it just for the money. There was no enjoyment. Careful planning had come to feel very dry.

The kids were in college, or soon to be. Martha, the oldest, would graduate soon. It was funny that she would want to go on for graduate work in order to join him in the pharmacy. Phil... well, it seemed all he wanted out of life was a can of beer and a fraternity party every night. Would he make it through college? Maybe. What then? Who knows. Jill, still was trying to decide on directions for after high school. He wanted her to go to college, too, but she was taking courses at the votech in, of all things, auto repair. He could see it now, his baby dressed in pink, a mechanic. Things were not turning out as he planned. He had hoped for 2 boys. 2 girls came his way. His relationship with his son was virtually nonexistent. Phil was a real disappointment.

He was fairly far down the course when he realized that he was not keeping score. He was just hitting the ball. In fact his swings had little form to them. It seemed as if he was taking his frustrations out on the ball, like he and Christine took out their frustration on each other. The more he thought, the harder he hit. The harder he hit the less distance the ball went, if it went at all.

Over on the horizon the clouds were pretty dark. Kind of like the past couple months. It seemed like all his financial plans were caving in. Very slowly his investments had begun running dry. Gradually new competition to his pharmacy had popped up every where, some with the backing of the big chains that could help them weather the fact that their was more supply than demand. Then he received the foreclosure notice, bills could not go unpaid forever. There didn't seem any way he could avoid going out of business. His dream was fading fast. He hadn't told Christine,... he couldn't. At one time they ran the business together. Now it was his... and he was losing it. It had been 2 months since he received the note. 2 long months... Longer and harder than any he hand known. He was losing it. It was his life, his future.

He was really chopping up the turf now, trying almost to kill the ball...lost in his thoughts, he didn't even take notice of the lightning.

Just the other night, 2 couples from the church came to visit, said they were part of the under-shepherd program. They wanted to know how open Christine and he'd be to meeting in a small support and prayer group on a regular basis to try to be what a church should be: Committed to Christ and to each other. Christine said they'd think about it, but she had that "I don't want to get involved" look on her face.

As he hit the ball he thought about those 2 couples and what they said. He got angry at them, though he didn't know why. He couldn't dismiss them. There was too much in what the offered.

All of a sudden it seemed like all his anger and frustration fell leaving him tired and exhausted. He sat down on the green. The words of Ecclesiastes came to him: "All is vanity. What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever... All things are full of weariness... all is vanity. He sat for the longest time looking at what he was, lost in the uselessness of his life, his carefully planned and financed life, all was vanity.

Then the rain gently fell upon him. No more thunder, just a cooling shower amidst the summer heat; a shower that seemed to cleanse his soul as it washed away his sweat and tears; a shower that seemed to bring newness/freshness to the dry and weary land of his life, giving water to the thirsty; a shower that was like the promise of God, that more often than not can only be heard when one is in need of rain, and knows it. "Every one who thirsts, come to the waters."

As the rain fell, he made a new commitment with God, a commitment that would carry him through the present darkness; a new commitment that would touch his marriage, his business, if it should continue, his children, his church. The rain fell like a promise from God. "Your days of exile are soon over. Prepare the way of the Lord. Preparation will not come easy. Things will not be perfect, in spite of this...prepare the way...For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace."

He stood up and started to walk back to the clubhouse, maybe for the last time. He was returning from exile, the exile he had been in the past couple months. Perhaps the exile he had been in for the last several years, years of planning and financing, but no life. He was coming home.

1996Peter L. Haynes

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