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Rubber Ball Follies: A Lesson in Discernment

rubber ball follliesThe painful lessons of life make the deepest impact on our delicate, and yet ever so dull, minds when we are children.

Indeed, I’ve come to refer to pain as “The Great Teacher,” which, given the growing trend of parenting techniques as I reached marriageable age caused me great consternation. All my fellow parents seemed Hades-bent and determined to protect their children from as many structured consequences and natural consequences as they could. I wondered, “What will come of a generation spared all the lessons of “The Great Teacher?” Now I know.

One of the most striking lessons I learned from the many tender moments of instruction that the Great Teacher gifted me (Sometimes he had to re-gift me, too.) came when I absorbed a bit of wisdom from a rubber ball lying in our local dump.

My father had filled our Satellite station wagon with yard debris, and took my younger brother and me to help dispose of it. [Yes, it’s brother and me and not brother and I… just take out brother and the confusion will lift… compare, “My father took me to help.”]

Anywaaaaaaaayyyyyy…. While working feverishly beside my father, like any manly 12-year old in a horrendously smelly dump would, I happened to notice a rubber ball sitting in the muck about 10-15 feet away. [For the sake of those who don’t know me, I think it only fair to confess that I have a rather iffy relationship with numbers in my storytelling. I don’t intend to fabricate distance or height or quantity, but I tend to think of numbers in terms of “close” “far” “big” “small” and then just pick one in the moment that captures that idea. It’s not a lie, just a fill-in-the-blank for a number I don’t actually recall with accuracy.] So the ball was a-ways from us… not too close, but not too far either.

It was one of those cheap rubber balls you see in the grocery store in the large wire racks, where many marbled balls of various colors are stacked up to the sky. The racks always have an opening at the bottom from which  small children, bedazzled by the towering spectacle, can pull one, and, thus, beg his parents to let him keep it. Since only Michael Jordan could successfully put the ball back, their sense of civic duty often compels them to comply.

My brother saw the ball as well, and its turquoise marble coloring called to us from the mud in which it was nestled so comfortably, “kiiiiiiiiiick me, kiiiiiiiiiiiiick me.”

Each time we turned our wanton eyes upon the ball, my father would say, “Pay attention boys.” (Though there were actually three male children in my home, somehow my younger brother and I were the only ones called “the boys.” I am certain my older brother was one too, but he managed to obtain a name. Indeed I wish I was less certain, but the three of us shared a room for nearly 18 years which basically guarantees that at some point you will have TMI[1] about all involved.)

I had visions of rushing upon that ball and kicking it into the stratosphere, awing everyone present (mostly rats and seagulls) with my powerful footwork. But, alas, my father held me captive to my slave labors, and my own personal greatness had to wait.

My brother was secretly thinking the same thing, but only gained enough humility to confess so, years later, when I regaled a semi-captive teenage audience with the tale. Personally, I think he just wanted to get some attention from the little ladies, who, no doubt, sat spellbound by my oration skills.

Then, my moment came; my father turned his back. I smacked my brother’s arm so that he might not miss my finest hour, and I rushed upon the ball with the streaking grace of the then famous Pele,[2] and WHAAAAAM!!!!!

It was a bowling ball.

Discernment in life is seldom needed when choices of right and wrong, true and false are obviously distinguishable, such as when a counterfeit dollar bill comes with a picture of Mickey Mouse on it. It is when a counterfeit seems almost identical with the real that discernment is needed. Not everything is as it appears.

This is why the Apostle John warns so fervently, “Beloved believe not every spirit.” Do not believe every spiritual sounding word. Do not believe every spiritual sounding “gift”. Do not believe every spiritual sounding experience. Do not believe every spiritual sounding man. Do not believe every testimony from those perpetuating their own reputation of spiritual power. Indeed many of those who brag themselves possessors of idyllic spiritual gifting are more often than not merely possessors of idollic spiritual gifting, self inflation, deception and greed. Not all that is done in spirit is done in the Holy Spirit. “Beloved believe not every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they be from God” (1 John 4:1).

Take the time in life to master the teaching of the Master. Poor theology and an undiscerning spirit may not bruise your foot, but it may shipwreck the faith of those for whom Christ died.


[1] For the uninitiated, TMI means Too Much Information. You might want to tuck that away in your mind; I’m sure it will come in handy.

[2] Famous Soccer player… think Dave Beckham with even more mystery… I never understood a word Pele said.

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