Light the candles.
One of my biggest regrets celebrates a birthday this month. Ten years have passed since I ignored three of the most important words I've ever heard.
"Share your faith."
I was living and working in Northern Virginia in November of 2003 when an unseasonably warm, colorful fall day arrived like an early Christmas present outside my front door. I called a friend from church and before you could say "bad golfers," we were pulling into the parking lot at a course we'd always wanted to play. We'd driven by many times, and even from the highway we could tell the first fairway was only slightly wider than a lasagna noodle.
We checked in at the clubhouse and decided to take advantage of their "buy-9-get-9" special. It was a treat — we rarely played 18 holes because our golf ball supply didn’t last that long.
Mostly, we were simply excited to play by ourselves. As avid golfers with no business actually playing golf, we knew that being paired up with others would ensure a miserable experience for them as we foraged for lost balls in trees, weeds and shallow creeks.
Just before we teed off, the golf course marshal's voice rang out on the outdoor loudspeaker and announced that a single would be joining us. Soon the man arrived at the tee with a smile on his face and a set of clubs worth more than our two sets combined. The tall African-American man, Mike, introduced himself and with a wide grin, accepted our preemptive apology for the way we were about to play.
The round began with the usual get-to-know-you games. We talked about our families and how Mike and his wife hadn’t been married long but looked forward to one day having children. My friend boasted about his beautiful twin babies and I bragged about my two daughters who’d already been told they would never be allowed to date, drive a car or leave home.
After the third or fourth hole, I began to hear the wind whisper the words, "Share your faith."
“But we're playing golf,” my head answered. “And I barely know him.” Soon, the words faded to the back of my mind like a tired echo.
The round continued and Mike beat us by a shot or two on every hole. He was patient, kind and never once seemed annoyed that we slowed the pace of play. We offered to let him play ahead, but he was enjoying the company and, quite frankly, we were enjoying his.
Then, once again, I heard words that seem to start somewhere between my heart and heaven.
“Share your faith."
I convinced myself that it simply wasn't the right time. After all, we spent most of the round out of earshot of one another because he was in the fairway and my friend and I were scaling trees.
After another couple of holes, I felt the urge a third time and decided that before the round ended, I would summon the courage to share what matters most. Perhaps there was a reason we are paired together that day. Perhaps he needed to be reminded that his Heavenly Father was aware of him. Perhaps Mike was unfamiliar with the gospel of Jesus Christ and was ready to learn.
Soon the refreshment cart rolled by and my friend and I overpaid for two bottles of Gatorade. Meanwhile, Mike bought two cold beers. As he popped one open, I decided it was best to wait until he was done. The time will come, I thought.
Sadly for me, but to Mike’s delight, the cart returned a few holes later and Mike bought two more. I again decided the time simply wasn't right and we played on.
As two hours became three, Mike left his wing somewhere on the back nine and he became much more quiet. When we finished the 18th hole, I'm not certain Mike even remembered our names or how many holes we’d played.
We said goodbye in the parking lot and loaded our clubs back into our cars. I remember so clearly looking at my friend and explaining how I’d missed an opportunity. I admitted that I’d frequently prayed for opportunities to share my faith and, in this case, I’d failed.
Happy 10th birthday, Mr. Regret.
I still think of Mike from time to time and I wonder if he and his wife had the children they wanted. With all my heart I hope they’re happy, healthy and living a fulfilling life. I also pray that if similarly prompted, someone else stepped up one day and shared something about God’s plan of happiness for his children.
As much as I’d like to, I can't go back to that golf course and replay that round. But I can relive the moment in other ways, in other places and with other Mikes.
Maybe those three words would have changed his life. Maybe not. But they certainly could have changed mine — or yours. Sharing what you believe isn't just about blessing the life of the listener. It's about the blessings to come to us when we act with spiritual courage.
Quiet, do you hear something?
"Share your faith."
Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and his latest, "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, applevalleybarndance.com or jasonfwright.com