A member of my parish (and a good friend) recently went golfing with her 13 year old son for the first time. As they were coming close to completing the eighteen holes, it was clear that her son was going to win this match. Being in obvious despair, her son gave her a loving look and asked, "Mom, would you like to take a mulligan?"
It is a bit disconcerting when, having played golf for a number of years, a relative neophyte to the game comes along and gives us a spanking on the first round of play. Maybe even a bit more humiliating is the gift of a mulligan. For those not familiar with the game of golf, a mulligan is a "do over." If one has hit a bad shot (or series of them when I play), those playing with us can offer to allow us to play a hole over again...in hopes of correcting the mistake. In tournament play, often one can buy or be given a certain number of mulligans before play commences...taking them when they may be most needed. I simply like to call a mulligan a "do over."
The nice thing about a mulligan is that, when it is taken, no one gives it any further consideration. I have never heard good golfers say anything like, "well, you only scored as well as you did because of that mulligan on #11." Or, "if it hadn't been for that mulligan, I would have really romped all over you." A real lady or gentleman golfer never mentions a mulligan once given and received. It is what it is. It is, in reality, a kind of forgiveness for a bad shot. It is as if it never happened. (In reflecting on this, I am aware of the book The Mulligan: A Parable of Second Chances, by Wally Armstrong and Ken Blanchard. I have not read this book but have come across it in bookstores and thumbed the pages. It looks like a good read!).
In an age when we are caught up in quantity, performance and perfection, it is hard to grasp that our being created in the image of God is all about second chances. Without taking anything away from old duffers, God was giving mulligans from the very beginning of creation. What we call the Doctrine of Grace comes down to God loving us so very much that forgiveness....complete and unconditional...is the hallmark of relationship. Folks have had to create a vengeful God as a means to justify their self-hatred and overwhelming sense of unworthiness. Vengefulness is not part of Love or redemption.
It is, admittedly, hard for us to wrap our heads around this concept of "Divine Mulligan." We have been conditioned to look for the worst...the bad...and the blame for anything that goes awry. If all else fails, we blame God. After all, in a perfect world, we should have perfect days...and when we don't, it has to be somebody else's fault.
Truth is, most of what happens is simply a bad shot on our parts off the tee. We put ourselves in the rough or out of play. When those times do happen that pain is induced by the action of another, it is because that perpetrator is blaming others for where he/she finds him/her self. In all cases, there is a mulligan waiting to be offered. Hard to believe that we are both loved and loveable just like we are. Perfection is not in our genes...ever.
Next time a bad day is in the making, take a moment and ask for a mulligan. Then, try again. Hey, like Jimmy Durante with his jokes...God is with Divine Mulligans. He's got a million of 'em! Just for you! And, me.