PUCK IN THE NET
BUT VOID IN HIS HEART
It was more than a hockey series – much more. It was a major historic cold war clash between the free world and those living behind the Iron Curtain – the Soviet Union. In 1972 the Soviet Union had reached its pinnacle of power. The tension was high between the two world super-powers – the Soviet Union and USA. The hockey players themselves felt in their own bones the dangerous tension between nations as the summit series between the Soviet Union and Canada started. It was as if the superiority of Democracy over Communism was at stake on the ice.
Just as vividly as that generation can recall exactly where they were when they heard President JF Kennedy was shot, Canadians can recall exactly what they were doing on September 28, 1972 when they heard Canadian Paul Henderson scored the winning goal of the hockey summit. Paul Henderson became instantly famous around the world. Not only a Canadian hero – but a winner for democracy around the globe.
Guinness Book of World Records declared that Paul Henderson’s #19 hockey jersey is the most expensive hockey jersey in the world, having sold for $1.25million. A Canadian silver dollar was minted to honour Henderson’s winning goal.
Paul Henderson has an amazing life story the details of which have been borrowed extensively and primarily from the Life Story Foundation and from Power to Change as referenced below.
“I was born in Ontario. In fact maybe one of the reasons I wanted to be a hockey player was because I was born on a sleigh in the middle of a snow storm on the way to the hospital. My father was a great hockey fan. (Before the days of Don Cherry) on Saturday night’s when Hockey Night in Canada’s Foster Hewitt came on the radio, woe betide anybody that said anything in our house. I mean it was Hockey Night in Canada. My brother and I grew up in that atmosphere and my father certainly encouraged me to do it.”
“I can remember when I was in Grade 5, I decided I wanted to be a professional hockey player. I can distinctly remember starting to work on my autograph in Grade 5 because if I ever made it, I wanted people to know who I was. Isn’t that ridiculous? But I had a dream. A dream as a young kid to go and play in the NHL.” (1)
Later in his teens, Henderson played in the Detroit Red Wings junior league and won the memorial cup. Champions in Canada.
HOCKEY OR EDUCATION
“After that year I had a year of junior left. I talked to my future wife and I decided that we were going to quit hockey and I was going to concentrate on getting an education. There were only a hundred jobs in the NHL. Six teams at that point. The money wasn’t that great and we wanted the good life. We used to sit there and talk about it and I wanted to have money. I wanted to be successful. I grew up in a rural area and we didn’t seem to have enough money. That seemed to be an aggravation. I was basically after the good life. To me the good life was to have money, to be successful in whatever you did, to have a good marriage, and enjoy good health.” (2)
With pressure from others and a re-think himself, Paul Henderson decided to try out for the NHL and if he didn’t make it, at that point he would go back to school. In 1963 he started playing for the Detroit Red Wings and then the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1968. In 1972 Henderson was selected for Canada’s Team to go into the Summit Hockey Showdown with the Soviet Union.
“We went over to Russia and not only did we shut them down but I scored the winning goal in the sixth, seventh and eighth game. I came back to Canada and I was the toast of Canada. It was incredible. They gave me a car. They gave me golf clubs. I went on this program and that program. Everybody in the world wanted my autograph. I can remember I was at a stoplight one day and a guy in the car, with two lanes going both way, recognized me and gets out of the car and he runs around and says I want your autograph. The light changed and people are honking and he says, “Shut up, it’s Paul Henderson. I’m getting his autograph.” I mean it was ridiculous. It was enjoyable. I certainly had a stature that I didn’t have before and it was really satisfying in a lot of ways. My friends would say to me, “You know, Henderson, you’re one of the luckiest guys in the world.”
SUCCESS BRINGS THE GOOD LIFE
“At that time I was twenty-eight years of age. I’d played in the NHL now for eight years. Something I’d always wanted to do and, I’ll tell you what, hockey is a good life. The money is good. You get four months of holiday. It is a good life. There’s no two ways about it. I just proved to myself and proved to the world that I could play with the best hockey players in the world and do well. We had a nice home. We had the cars. In fact, I had a car that no one was ever able to pass me in for two years. I was into those things. I belonged to the right country club.”
“I can stand here and tell you that if I had could have chosen from all the women in the world, I could not have married a better woman than the woman I married. She’s suited to me. We’ve been married over twenty-nine years today and have a terrific marriage. We had three children by this time. I knew that I had everything that I ever set out in life to accomplish.” (3)
Paul Henderson, as he was relating his story to an audience, said at that point in his life, at age 28, he had everything he ever dreamed of having in life. And then he admitted something perhaps you have been afraid to admit – he said this:
NOT HAPPY. BITTER. ANGRY. EMPTY.
“Yet there was a restlessness, a discontentment in the centre of my being that I could not ignore. I was angry, bitter and frustrated, and there were things about my life that I didn’t know how to handle. Things were not going well with the Maple Leafs, the team I was playing on, and I was having a lot of conflicts with the owner. Here I was playing in the NHL, doing something that I had always strived for, but I had become more bitter and angry than I had ever been in my life.” (4)
By this time, Mr. Henderson was drinking more to mask the pain and to hide his inner emptiness. Like so many others, he was experiencing an inner void that no amount of success, fame, accomplishments and pleasure can fill. He was empty and hurting. After a night of partying he would wake up and find the inner gnawing emptiness was still with him. He wasn’t able to shake it. He started asking people if they themselves were truly satisfied and if there was a real purpose and meaning to life. Solid answers were elusive. It was at this stage in his life when Mel Stevens literally came knocking on his door.
‘IF YOU DIED TONIGHT…’
“At the time, when I was searching and may have become a little more teachable, I met one of these religious guys. One of these born againers – one of these Christians. Now I didn’t know what born again meant, but I used to make fun of religious fanatics. All along my attitude had been: “You can believe anything you want to believe, but don’t lay anything on me.”
“As I talked to this man he started to ask me some questions that really got me thinking. In fact he said, “Paul, if you died tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?” Well, you know, I’m not into dying. I’m only twenty-eight and ‘eternity’ is that religious stuff.”
“I really thought that Christianity was for people that couldn’t cut it. If you couldn’t make it out there you needed somebody else. You needed a crutch and then you had to turn to God but the real man’s man certainly didn’t need any God to get by.”
“I was very negative toward him but then I started to ask my wife, “Do you think there’s anything after this?” We weren’t really sure. Fortunately we grew up going to Sunday School in church and we heard the stories and everything; but after I played junior hockey I set that aside. I was going to be a man’s man.” (5)
Today there are athletes who are openly Christian but back when Paul Henderson was feeling so empty, having reached the pinnacle of fame, and still restless and unsatisfied, he knew of not another single Christian athlete. In fact, he didn’t even think it would be possible to be a true Christian and a hockey player at the same time. He admitted to being a little negative about what this Christian man was telling him but interested enough to look into it further.
1. I really came to believe and understand that there was indeed a God in heaven that loved me very much. He didn’t want me to be discontent or restless and wanted my life to have purpose and meaning in it.
2. The second thing he explained to me and I really believed was that I was separated from God because of the things that I had done. I had basically said, “God, you go your way and I’ll go mine.” Paul Henderson did everything he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it and as he wanted to do it, and believe me, as a hockey player you have access to a lot of things out there. He explained to me and showed me from the Bible the penalty and the consequences of this is eternal separation from God. Now that didn’t excite me.
3. The third thing he shared with me is that God loved me so much and all of mankind and that’s why He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to earth to live the perfect life. When He died on the Cross, He took the sins of all mankind on His shoulders and paved the way for us so that we could approach God.
4. The fourth thing he explained to me was that God leaves it up to you. He gives you the opportunity of becoming a Christian if you want to.”
BORN AGAIN DEFINED
Mel Stevens explained what born again meant.
“It’s simply, Paul, when you’re born physically you’re going to die physically someday.” He said the death ratio has been 1:1. For every person who’s been born they’ve died eventually….When you’re born, though, you are born dead spiritually and you have the opportunity of having spiritual life by inviting the Lord Jesus Christ into your life. When you do that, at that moment you receive spiritual life and that’s what it means to be born again.”
“I worked with this man and he was no where socially. He was no where financially. I could have bought and sold him a thousand times over. He had no fame, but the one thing he did have was a quietness and a contentment in his life that I knew came from what he talked about having -a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
HINDRANCES TO BECOMING A CHRISTIAN
“I got to a point that I wanted to become a Christian but I couldn’t do it for three reasons:
1. Mainly because I didn’t have enough courage. I was worried about ridicule. What are the Toronto Maple Leafs going to say? What are the guys in my Golf and Country Club going to say? The guys that I run with and drink with and gamble with. They’re going to say Henny’s got religion and they’re going to make fun of me. I was petrified.
2. The second reason was I was a man’s man. I was one of the boys and I knew that if I became a Christian there was going to be some things that would have to change in my life. To turn my life over to someone else and let Him take control I thought that was a little narrow. I really thought that you have to give up a lot to become a Christian.
3. The third reason and the real clincher was, I read by this time, that if you really love the Lord you’ll stand up for Him. You’ll be a witness. Time out! There is no way that this polliwog would ever tell anybody that I became a Christian.”
THE GOAL OF A LIFETIME – SCORING FOR ETERNITY
“Now this went on in my life for several months until one specific day, March 12, 1975. I was thirty-two years of age and I was in my library all by myself. I had a conversation with God. I said, “God, I can’t fight you any longer. I have got everything that the world can imagine but I don’t have the one thing I think I need and that’s peace of mind and quietness. I accept the fact that You love me. I accept the fact that I’m separated from You and I ask You to forgive me of all the things that I’ve ever done right now. I invite Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ into my life as my Lord and Saviour.” (6)
INNER QUIETNESS, CONTENTMENT AND PEACE
“Since that day, I have never been the same. God has had a positive impact in every area of my life. Most importantly, He has taken away my anger and bitterness. My life certainly hasn’t been trouble-free. One of the most challenging times in my life was when my wife was in the hospital and we thought we were going to lose her. I was mad at God, but I realized that night that life is a gift from God, and I decided right then to place everything in my life in His hands. He had proven Himself to me over the years with His faithfulness, and I knew that I had no choice but to surrender my life to Him. Now the inner quietness, contentment and peace I experience on a daily basis assures me that His promise to love and care for me is true and real. And best of all, I look forward to spending eternity with Him.” (7)
YOU HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE
Paul Henderson got over his fear of ridicule for being a Christian – although he did take his share of ribbing in the early days when he was still playing hockey. In the Bible there was a man who was impressed with the innocence of Christ but he had to make a choice between Jesus and a friendship with Caesar. Pilate stuck with his friendship and sentenced Jesus to be crucified. Perhaps there’s something in your life you have to weigh up – Jesus or that some-one or some-thing. Remember your choice is for eternity. To choose something else will result in eternal darkness and separation from God.
In 2009 Paul Henderson was diagnosed with chronic lymphoid leukemia. But repeatedly in interviews he talks about his confidence in Christ and the complete absence of fear as he thinks of death. In September 2012 he contrasted for The Hockey News his present peace with the fear he had before he knew Christ. “I was petrified of dying for years,” Henderson said. “We’d get onto a plane and there would be bad weather and I’d be petrified.” (8) Today, in light of his prognosis he is calm. He knows because Christ died for his sins and he accepted Christ as his Saviour back in March, 1973 that he is safe inside the family of God and Heaven is his eternal home. He has no doubts about that.
In a recent interview with Jian Ghomeshi, CBC Studio Q, Paul Henderson shared his faith with popular radio host Ghomeshi. He quoted the words of Christ from John 10:10 when Jesus said: “I am come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” Ghomeshi after reading Henderson’s latest book had a wrap-up question for his guest. He wanted to know what Henderson meant when he said to go for contentment rather than achievement. (9) Henderson talked about the peace and contentment he has found through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
If you would like to know more about becoming a Christian click here.
5. Ibid. 1
6. Ibid. 1
7. Ibid. 4