Something about me and sports are not compatible. The mere suggestion of a ball game can double my stress level. I can lose a game of tennis before I can manage to serve a ball over the net. At school I always tried to run as far away from the ball as possible; fielding in distant, obscure corners; and attempting to protect the goal areas, without ever having to come into contact with the offending object! As a child I was short-sighted for years without realizing it, and, by the time I had my first pair of glasses, years of ball-game humiliation had made a lasting impression on my memory.

So it was with some relief that I watched Joel kicking a ball in the garden, the day after he began to walk! Almost from birth he had a fascination with balls. Someone had made him a Victorian patchwork ball as a baby gift, and he would hold it and cuddle it for hours. Then, as he grew older, he would throw it, as babies do, laughing, onto the floor, over and over again.

Joel would yell with delight at the sight of an orange, apple, or grapefruit, because it looked like like a ball, too, and if you gave him one to hold, he would use it as a ball, or try to eat the skin.

Yesterday we went to a family sports’ morning. Once again I found myself studiously trying to avoid contact with anything moderately spherical. I tried badminton, but I wasn’t much good at that either, because I always expect the shuttlecock to bounce, and, for some strange reason, it never does!

Bernie and the children were happily batting balls over the nets in short tennis, and playing basket ball. Joel slept most of the time, but towards the end he woke and thought he was in wonderland because there were balls everywhere1 The balls were all of the spongy type, and nice and squishy for him to hold. He ran along the edge of the courts, squealing with delight and collecting any ball that came his way. An out-of-control toddler is a liability where people are playing sport, so I gathered him up in my arms, together with his ball collection, which we had to redistribute among several ball-less tennis games. Unable to pick up balls himself, he now yelled at the other children, and pointed to every ball he could see. He yelled and yelled until someone picked the ball up and gave it to him. But he was running out of places to put the balls. He had one in each pocket, one in each hand, and one cuddled to his chest. Five was the most he could handle; after that, he always had to drop at least one ball in order to grab another.

I put him down for a few minutes, and watched him trying to gather balls, but always losing some as he reached out for more. He was like a little, clumsy juggler, struggling there, with balls going all over the place.

“I think you’ve got yourself another story for your book!” My friend smiled at Joel. “Don’t you ever feel like that! When will we ever learn that we can only hold so many balls at once? After that, every time we pick up one new responsibility, we have to drop some of the others, till we end up like Joel, clumsily juggling, and not doing anything very well!” She said this with feeling. We both knew – we’d been there, trying to be a mother, a housewife, cook, pastor’s wife, church social organizer, children’s department organizer, writer, interior designer, seamstress… The list seemed endless. Some attractive “balls” had bounced our way, and we’d tried to catch them for a while, but always something else had suffered. This year we had both decided we needed fewer “balls”, but this was only January and already all kinds of balls were bouncing around our feet, just waiting to be picked up. It was hard to know which ones to choose.

It was time to pack up, and Joel was very helpful as he picked up the balls one at a time and dropped them slowly into their box.

Dear Father, there are so many busy “balls of responsibility” bouncing around in my life. Help me to concentrate on Your priorities for my life, so that I am not rushing around trying to gather them all. Help me to choose the most important “balls” of sitting at Your feet, and listening to Your words, so that You can help me to choose the best “balls” for my life. Amen.

What are the greatest priorities in your life?

List all the “balls” that you are trying to hold at the moment. Prayerfully consider your list, and see if there are any that need to be dropped for a while because they make it harder to hold the most important “balls”: your relationship with God, and your relationship with your family.

Spend some time today having a special moment with God, a special moment with your spouse, and a special moment with each of your children.

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