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Keys to Recovery

By Austin Pryor
Sound Mind Investing In the movie Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius, there's a scene in which the U. S. Open champion Walter Hagan plays against the younger Bobby Jones. Although he has an erratic swing and seems error prone, Hagan runs away with the match. Afterwards, he confides in Jones: "I don't always hit the ball straight, but you know what I've learned? Three bad shots and one good one still make par. Golf is a game of recovery."

This simple but profound observation was dramatically illustrated at the 2005 Masters Tournament when Tiger Woods, after a notably poor first round, made a remarkable recovery to win golf's most coveted championship. And it's not just golf. It's true in all sports. We've recently watched college basketball's "March Madness" and a lineup of regional games that included several seemingly impossible comebacks. Sportswriters called it arguably the most exciting weekend in NCAA Tournament history. Or how about last year's Boston Red Sox? After losing the first three games of their league championship series with the N.Y. Yankees, they were trailing in game four with only three outs standing between them and the end of their season. But they recovered. They came back to win that game, and, shockingly, the next three as well. In stunning the Yankees, they became the first team in baseball history to recover from an 0-3 deficit in a league championship and win four straight to claim the title (and eventually the World Series).

Sports fans can talk for hours about amazing comebacks. But the principle seems applicable across a broad range of life's experiences. Since Sound Mind Investing is a financial newsletter, let's move the conversation in that direction. Of course, stewardship (and the investing duties that come with it) is not a game. It's quite serious. When we handle this responsibility well, we help further God's kingdom as well as earn "Well done!" praise and eternal rewards from our Savior. But, like athletes, because we don't carry out our duties with perfection, we can fall behind where we know we need to be. Few of us, this writer included, can look back at a lifetime of spending, investing, and giving decisions and be totally pleased with our performance.

Perhaps you've not gotten control of your spending, and consequently have a debt hill (or mountain!) to climb. Or that area may be doing pretty well, but you don't have much in the way of savings. Or you have some savings set aside in an IRA or 401(k) account, but admittedly you haven't done a great job of choosing the investments that are best for you at this stage of your life.

It may be obvious I've been leading up to this: Being a good steward is if I may use the term for purposes of illustration a game of recovery. Sound Mind Investing exists to help Christians in this process. Our "Four Levels" framework helps you set biblical financial and giving priorities and stay focused on doing first things first. Our primary investing approach, Fund Upgrading, is an ongoing recovery strategy where we have specific guidelines in place that tell us when a fund is losing too much ground and needs to be replaced. In other words, we're constantly alert to recovering our performance edge.

I certainly made my share of mistakes in earlier years, and am eager to share what I've learned so that you don't repeat them. I got up and kept going; so can you. You might even want to take a few tips from the athletes who have learned how to recover from setbacks. If you listen to their interviews, there's a common thread that goes through their description of how they overcame their poor starts.

1. Let go of the past. They have a long-practiced and rather remarkable ability to put their failures behind them block them out and concentrate on the task immediately at hand.

2. Play the next play. The most important thing is to focus on what they can do now. They know they can't make up for their past mistakes all at once, but they can begin to regain ground bit by bit with a birdie on this hole, a basket on this trip down the floor, a single into center to keep the rally alive.

3. Follow their training. They had received training over the years as to how to execute the task at hand, and they knew it was essential that they stay faithful to that training. This was no time for untested strategies or spontaneous innovations. They just needed to concentrate on doing simple things well, performing as they'd been taught.

4. Persevere. Essentially, this means repeating the first three steps over and over. It's not easy. It requires "a long obedience in the same direction." It's called being faithful.

If we invite the Holy Spirit to help us follow this pattern, we'll have a lot in common with the apostle Paul (who knew a thing or two about recovering from a bad start): "I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven" (Philippians 3:13-14 NLV).

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