A Girl and Her Mean Tether-ball Swing

I grew up in the late 50’s and 60’s in the small town of Greenbelt, Maryland. Our little row house was within walking distance of “the Center” where I could watch a movie, go bowling, sit at a counter and drink a milkshake and purchase my parents' cigarettes at The Candy Store with 26 cents and a note from Mom.

I also walked to Center Elementary; and yes, on snowy days that hill near the under pass was rough to get up. But I didn’t walk up hill in a foot of snow both ways like Mom did. In those days kids did school work at school; there was no such thing as “home” work. The little black and white TV in the living room held absolutely no appeal. Besides, only Daddy could fool with those rabbit ears covered with aluminum foil well enough to watch it anyway. So when I got home I did a chore or two, grabbed a snack and headed outside to play with neighborhood friends.

I was never really athletic. But that was okay because what I was running out to do was play tetherball. I had some good eye-hand coordination so…well…it’s simply a fact that I was the kid to beat. A buck-toothed, skinny girl that had to cycle through my 5 dresses throughout the school week had a mean tetherball swing that made me feel like somebody.

I had my share of losses, though. As I type I can almost feel the ball whomp me upside the head. One time I ran into the house crying because blood was squirting out of my nose with every heart beat. Another time I turned away just in time for the ball to clobber me in the back of the head, sending me to the ground where I cramped my knee up pretty bad on some gravel. But I mostly remember the joy of feeling good at something — and I especially loved beating the mean boy who lived in the pretty single family house closeby. He had a nicer home and cooler clothes, but he didn’t have my swing. And he was a boy.

Over the years I’ve reflected on my “tetherball career.” Perhaps I’ve gotten better and even less beatable in the 50 years since I lived off Greenbelt Road. And maybe that mean boy wasn’t as mean and snooty as I remember. But what’s real clear in my mind is what I learned from playing tetherball.

I learned that kids like feeling good at something and that it’s always better if what they feel good at is actually earned. Too many parents today coddle and praise their kids for things they’re just not good at or perhaps allow their own craving for approval to be passed along to children who get rewarded far too early for hard work to have it’s day.

And I learned that I needed to tether myself to something stable and secure. On a rare occasion the ball would loosen from the thick rope tether, and we’d be chasing it as it flew through the air fast. Mostly, though, the ball stayed attached to the metal pole that was tightly held in concrete by that tether. Maybe that’s why I preferred tetherball to other spots where you had to incessantly run down balls that backboards or hands or bats or rackets missed. Even when I missed the ball it would quickly make its way back around for me to clobber or be clobbered.

Recently I’ve been meeting with a group of ladies from our church to work through “Relationships: A Mess Worth Making” by Paul Tripp and Tim Lane. We’re having a great time talking about the messy relationships in our lives and how God usually requires that we stay in the mess as He transforms us in the process. Last week I asked the ladies (and myself), “To what are we tethered?” The fact is every one of us is attached to something or some one. To what am I tethered?

My emotions?
My perceptions (right or wrong) of situations and circumstances?
Being approved of, appreciated and respected by others?
Being right?
Enjoying food, money, sex or success?
Feeling or getting loved?
Being better at something than others (like tetherball)?
Using my gifts in visible, tangible ways that gain notice and influence?
Having obedient, godly kids?

Please don’t do what I did for too many years and dismiss this list — or anything else God will bring to mind. Tethering is human nature. The simple fact is that we all find things and people to which we attach ourselves for worth, significance, happiness or fulfillment.

The one who willingly tethered Himself to a wooden cross until He drank every drop in the cup of God’s wrath has now forever attached Himself to you and me. We can chase after pleasure, respect, approval, significance, rightness or influence all we want. But eventually those things will clobber us with regret or shame or disappointment or gripping anxiety or fleeting happy feelings that rob us of true joy. When (not if) that happens we’ll then realize He never let us go. His grasp remains when ours weakens or fails. Time and again the gift of conviction melts our wayward hearts, and if we truly belong to Him we repent and come to see with His help that what we’ve been longing and searching for has already been provided.

A little girl found worth in being good at something others weren’t.

A young woman searched for significance in people and applause.

A old woman is learning more and more to find identity in being closely and securely held in the scarred hands of the One who promises that all I need is found in Him.

A faithful God has been there making sure I stayed tethered to Him through all the decades. I’m grateful that I’m increasingly finding Him to be enough. Will you join me?