When was the last time you played tetherball or even thought about tetherball? NFL quarterback Eli Manning brought me down memory lane recently during a teaser for his entertaining Super Bowl commercial where he proclaims, “I’m good at tetherball.” I’m not sure I ever saw anyone who was good at tetherball but I have no reason to doubt Eli. The film “Napoleon Dynamite” –on nearly constant looping at our house in the 90s– has a great scene where Napoleon, the awkward teenage boy main character, is trying to impress a potential girlfriend with his tetherball skills. Watch the clip here. It pretty well summarizes the playground version of the game.

My own experience with tetherball requires reaching back to the 1970s and my country school playground. District #32 was a one room brick school house a bit more than a mile down the gravel roads directly south of our farm in Turner County/Norway Township. Our recesses were spent on the magical big back yard that included a variety of playground equipment. I was a big fan of the swings until one of the older boys jumped out of his swing and landed on me when I was in first grade. Full disclosure, I was walking in front of the swings. DON’T WALK IN FRONT OF SWINGS. Let’s move on around our playground tour. I was not fond of the giant stride, aka the “tooth chipper.” This tall metal pole with attached chains and swings that went round and round and round is probably to blame for my aversion to spinning carnival rides and propensity for dizziness. Given the choice with my classmates—only five total kids in my grade (Bob, Judy, Ruth, Peggy, and myself) and maybe 15 kids in the whole school, I would choose to play tetherball.  Of course, this was only if we were not doing a group running/tag game such as Red Light-Green Light, Pump Pump Pullaway, Prisoner’s Base, or Too Late for Supper. I just had an ah-ah moment. My love of working in groups can be traced back to my country school recesses, but I digress.

I liked playing tetherball. It certainly wasn’t as dangerous as the giant stride. There was something about the rhythm of the game and watching for the unpredictable trajectory of the big yellow ball. I can still hear that slapping sound and imagine the stinging sensation on the palms of my hands. My favorite part of the game was when the ball was hit so hard that the rope would quickly circle and circle until the ball was clinging safely to the side of the pole. The physics of the whole thing was exciting and, if you recall the rules, a point was scored. We would unwrap the rope and ball from the pole and go at it again, slap, slap, slap.

I’ve warned you in other posts that I am a person of faith (and I suspect you are, whether you believe it or not–we all cling to something). I’ve decided to make tetherball a new, go-to image for my life. Don’t worry, I haven’t given up the crockpot image that I discussed in an earlier post.  The more I thought about this image, it became a powerful reminder to me of how my faith works in my daily life. I don’t see myself as the tetherball player, but rather I see myself as the ball. The ball that gets bounced around in all different situations or sometimes just lying still against the sturdy steel pole out in the middle of the playground. The ball that can get hit hard but is always brought back to that centering post by the sturdy rope. God is that steadfast post, that firm foundation. The rope that God holds me with? That rope is made of promises and hope proclaimed in God’s Word–see my favorite Bible verse below. For me that rope is made of a Savior named Jesus, and an advocate–the Holy Spirit. Nothing that the world can throw at me will be keep me from being separated from God. That is a powerful promise. Even when I don’t know where to turn, the physics of my faith will always bring me circling back into the arms of my loving God and Savior. What am I asked to do? Simply believe. Believe that I am attached to that life giving rope. Can you imagine how free that ball must feel? Spinning, spinning, and always knowing it will come back to rest against its firm foundation.

I am thankful for each and every day on this big backyard playground we all share. Some days are harder than others, some are just cold and long, others are full of adventure and possibility. I find that the quality and joy of my days aren’t determined by what comes at me but rather by the freedom that knowing no matter what happens, I am held. I will always cling to that promise.

Be the ball. The tetherball.


For I am convinced that neither death no life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.    Romans 8:38-39.

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5 thoughts on “Be the ball.

  1. What a beautiful post to read and savor on this cold February night! Your way with words transports me right back to #32 and the bubble of life we shared there. Our faith has deep roots in those country roads of Norway Township which connected us to family and friends. Love you…

  2. To me, tether ball was always a lonely game—what you did when you were on a playground by yourself, or when everyone was playing a different game. Thanks for a new way to think about it . . .

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