I like working on a college campus. Of course, it has some drawbacks, but for me personally the advantages far outweigh those drawbacks. Part of what I like so much is the range of things that go on. There is a huge range of things that students study. Some things I know quite a bit about and other things, I barely know what the subject means. And when you have this many people united in one enterprise called a college, there is an amazing diversity of abilities and talents. Music, art, clubs, work and so much more make the array of possible involvement feel almost limitless.
One thing I did not mention in the list was sports. I like sports. I played sports and I still like to watch sports. I would be the first to admit that sports in America are probably out of whack. There may well be too much time and money spent on a variety of games. This seems particularly true of professional sports. I am not too much into pro sports. I am convinced something happens when people start getting paid to play things like basketball, baseball and all the others. And it really feels ironic to think some Saturday autumn days, 100,000 people will gather in a stadium to watch 22 guys on a field playing football!
I like to go to different venues on my campus and watch the sports teams practice. It is fun because of knowing so many of the athletes. At the collegiate level where I teach the athletes are pretty good, but they are not getting paid, nor will they get paid. They will have to figure out another way to make a living. So that’s life. Play for fun. And then become a “weekend warrior” like the rest of us who like to play sports into our middle and old age. But nobody is going to pay me to play any sport! That’s life!
It hit me one day as I had drifted around to watch three different sports teams practice. All three sports needed a ball in order to play. But they were very different kinds of balls. I caught a bit of the tennis team practicing. I have played some tennis, so I know how small and relatively light a tennis ball is. And that ball is fairly bouncy.
Then I moved on to the soccer field. I have much less experience playing soccer. It still feels a little odd to me not to be able to use my hands. A soccer ball obviously is much bigger than a tennis ball. But it still bounces in a similar way.
Finally, I caught the end of the football practice. It takes no imagination to realize how different the football is from the tennis and soccer ball. I watched the kicker sail the ball fifty yards. When the ball hit the turf, I could not guess which crazy way that thing might bounce and careen.
That is when the metaphor entered my mind. Life is like a ball. We bounce along through time. Like a ball, life has a time and then it no longer will be “playable.” At some point, the air goes out—the ball becomes flat and life ends in death. It’s a good metaphor for me. But there was more.
Life may be like a ball, but the question is, what kind of ball? Is my life like that tennis ball? Am I more like the soccer ball? I might actually be a bowling ball. If my life is like a football, then that will be a very different kind of life! I was intrigued. How might I determine which kind of ball most characterized my life and what could I learn from this?
Then another thing hit me. There is a common saying that I heard countless times. “That’s the way the ball bounces.” Typically when someone says that, the person is suggesting things are out of control. But I realized that is not quite true for all kinds of balls. I played basketball and when I bounced that ball, essentially I controlled it. It bounced “true.” Maybe some of our lives are like that basketball. In that sense our lives are “true.” We may not be in total control, but life is fairly predictable and we seem to have life in hand. Our life bounces along in good fashion with little surprises.
Of course, there is the football! If life is like a football, then control is an issue. When life is like a football, life becomes unpredictable, surprising, uncontrollable, and so on. Some people I have known certainly have had “football lives.” Compared to my life, their lives were crazy---often with weird bounces.
But then I had one final revelation. Maybe each of us does not have one “ball life.” My life is not like a basketball---not all the time anyway. In reality I think we all have various “ball lives.” My life may be more like a basketball---fairly predictable, etc. But there have been seasons where my life was much more like a football. I careened and bounced in ways I could not predict or control. All I could do was try to respond and manage my bouncing life.
So what? If we know “that’s the way the ball bounces,” we can play the game of life to the best of our ability. If we do that, God will declare all of us winners!