Let’s Go Off the Balls

by | May 31, 1999 | New Life, Spiritual Growth

I took my two oldest daughters to Sea World recently. My wife was out of town, so Jenna, Andrea, and I went to spend the day watching the dolphins dip, the walruses waddle, and the penguins paddle.

We had a great day. Hot dogs. Ice cream. Stuffed whales. Toys, toys, and toys. The girls know their dad is a pushover for a thirteen-letter “Pleeeeeeeease.” I should have known better. The average interest in amusement park memorabilia is twelve minutes and thirty-two seconds. Then it is, “Daddy, can you hold this? It’s too heavy.”

“Now, I told you not to buy it if you couldn’t hold on to it.


So by the end of the day I was carrying two pen-and­pencil sets, one set of sunglasses, an inflated penguin, a shark’s tooth (complete with shark), a life-sized stuffed version of Shamu the killer whale, six balloons, and a live turtle. (OK, I’m exaggerating; there were only five balloons.) Add to that the heat, the rash from getting splashed with salt water, and the Eskimo Pie; that melted down my shirt, and I was ready for a break.

That’s why I was glad to see the plastic ball pit. This one activity is enough to convince you to keep your season pass current. It’s a large, covered, shady, cool, soothing pavilion. Under the awning is a four-foot-deep pit the size of a backyard pool. But rather than being filled with water, it is loaded with balls-thousands and thousands of plastic, colorful, lightweight balls.

In the center of the pit is a sort of table with holes through which blow jets of air. Kids climb through the pit, grab balls, place them over the holes, and “Whee!”­up fly the balls.

The greatest part of the pit is the parents’ area. While the kids roll and romp in the balls, the parents sit on the carpeted floor next to the pit and rest.

My oldest daughter, Jenna, did great. She dove in and made a beeline to the table.

Three-year-old Andrea, however, had a few difficulties. As soon as she took one step into the pit, she filled her arms with balls.

Now, it is hard enough to walk through the waist high pit of balls with your arms spread to keep your balance. It is impossible to do it with your arms full.

Andrea took a step and fell. She tried to wrestle her way up without releasing the balls. She couldn’t. She began to cry. I walked over to the edge of the pit.

“Andrea,” I said gently, “let go of the balls, and you can walk.”

“No!” She screamed, wiggling and submerging herself beneath the balls. I reached in and pulled her up. She was still clutching her armful of treasures.

“Andrea,” her wise, patient father said, “if you’ll let the balls go, you’ll be able to walk. Besides, there are plenty of balls near the table.”


She took two steps and fell again.

Parents aren’t supposed to go into the pit. I tried to reach her from the edge, but I couldn’t. She was somewhere under the balls, so I spoke toward the area where she had fallen. “Andrea, let go of the balls so you can get up.”

I saw a movement under the balls. “Nooo!!”

“Andrea,” spoke her slightly agitated father. “You could get up if you would let go of . . .”

“Nooooo! ! ! ! ! “

“Jenna, come here and help your sister up.”

By now the other parents were beginning to look at me. Jenna waded through the balls toward her little sister. She reached down into the pit and tried to help Andrea onto her feet. Jenna wasn’t strong enough, and Andrea couldn’t help because she was still clutching the same balls she had grabbed when she first stepped into the pit.

Jenna straightened up and shook her head at me. “I can’t get her up, Daddy.”

“Andrea,” her increasingly irritated father said loudly, “let go of the balls so you can get up!”

The cry from beneath the balls was muffled, but distinct. “Nooooo!!!!!”

” Great,” I thought to myself. “She’s got what she wants, and she’s going to hold on to it if it kills her.”

` Jenna,” her visibly angered father said sternly. “Take those balls away from your sister.”

Down Jenna dove, digging through the balls like a puppy digging through the dirt. I knew she had found her little sister and that the two were engaged in mortal combat when waves of balls began to move on the surface of the pit.

By now the other parents were whispering and pointing. I looked forlornly at the employee who was monitoring the pit. I didn’t even have to say a word. “Go on in,” he told me.

I waded through the balls to my two angels, broke the death-locks they had on each other, put one under each arm, and carried them to the center of the pit. I dropped them next to the table (all the other kids scrambled away when they saw me coming). Then I marched back to the side of the pit and sat down.

As I watched the girls play with the balls, I asked myself, “What is it that makes children immobilize themselves by clutching toys so tightly?”

I winced as a response surfaced. “Whatever it is, they learned it from their parents.”

Andrea’s determination to hold those balls is nothing compared to the vice-grips we put on life. If you think Jenna’s job of taking the balls away from Andrea was tough, try prying our fingers away from our earthly treasures. Try taking a retirement account away from a fifty­five-year-old. Or try convincing a yuppie to give up her BMW. Or test your luck on a clotheshorse and his or her wardrobe. The way we clutch our possessions and our pennies, you’d think we couldn’t live without them.


Jesus’ promise is comprehensive: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” We usually get what we hunger and thirst for. The problem is, the treasures of earth don’t satisfy. The promise is, the treasures of heaven do.

Blessed are those, then, who hold their earthly possessions in open palms. Blessed are those who, if everything they own were taken from them, would be, at most, inconvenienced, because their true wealth is elsewhere. Blessed are those who are totally dependent upon Jesus for their joy.

“Andrea,” her father pleaded, “there are more than enough balls to play with at the table. Concentrate on walking.”

“Max,” the heavenly Father pleads, “there are more riches than you could ever dream at the banquet table. Concentrate on walking.”

Our resistance to our Father is just as childish as Andrea’s. God, for our own good, tries to loosen our grip from something that will cause us to fall. But we won’t let go.

“No, I won’t give up my weekend rendezvous for eternal joy.”

“Trade a life addicted to drugs and alcohol for a life of peace and a promise of heaven? Are you kidding?”

“I don’t want to die. I don’t want a new body. I want this one. I don’t care if it is fat, balding, and destined to decay. I want this body.”

And there we lie, submerged in the pits, desperately clutching the very things that cause us grief.

It’s a wonder the Father doesn’t give up.

The Applause of Heaven

copyright [Word Publishing, 1996] Max Lucado, p. 91-95.

Used by permission


Let’s Go Off the Balls