I play basketball every Friday with a group of women who also love to play. When the shutdown hit in 2020, we had no place to go. We were devastated. I had access to a gym, but no one was allowed to play with me. Nonetheless, I bought a brand-new beautiful leather basketball and played on my own about three times a week for exercise and to get out of the house. I loved that ball. In some ways, it became a companion to me during a lonely season.

If you ever saw the movie, Castaway with Tom Hanks, imagine Wilson, his volleyball. Unlike Tom Hanks, I didn’t have full conversations with my basketball, but I loved it. I spent time with it. I began to adore it.

When we started playing basketball again, I brought my ball along and my Friday friends seemed to enjoy it so much that it became our new game ball.  Quite a privilege for a basketball!

One day, however, tragedy struck. As we gathered our belongings after a hard Friday morning of playing, I couldn’t locate my ball. I asked the others who remained if they accidentally packed my ball with their things. No one seemed to have it. I ran out to the parking lot to flag down those who had already left the gym. Nothing. In my urgency, I sent out a quick text to the group. No one had it. I even called a few people to ask if they had seen it.

It was gone.

As I replayed the morning in my head, I remembered that we had a new player that day who wasn’t on the text thread. She was a friend of one of our regulars. So, I became convinced that she accidentally grabbed my ball. Certain of this, I called my friend who invited her. She told me that she had already reached out to this newcomer, and she said didn’t have it, either.

What happened after this, I’m not proud of.

I became obsessed with finding my ball.

I peppered my friends weekly about the ball. Where could it have gone? This wasn’t the kind of gym that people enter in and out of; we were the only people  there that day. A ball can’t simply disappear. I knew that someone in our group accidentally took it and didn’t thoroughly search for it. I was incensed, even indignant. Why didn’t anyone seem to care about my ball as much as me? I even dreamt about finding it. My precious, missing ball wasn’t on their radar, and it infuriated me.

One friend even tried to satiate my obsession by offering to replace my ball with a new one, probably just to shut me up. As you can likely see, it wasn’t about the ball anymore. The ball had become something more. In Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul Tripp writes, “What controls our hearts will exercise inescapable influence over our lives and behavior.” [1] There is a fine line between having appropriate expectations and allowing those expectations to become an obsession. It is a normal expectation to arrive and depart from playing basketball on Fridays with all my possessions in tow. It became an obsession when I began to overwhelm others with my unmet expectations. I made others miserable around me…because of a ball. What made everything worse is that I became angrier because no one else seemed to be as obsessed as me. They weren’t agreeing with my idolatry.

Ezekiel 14:1-4 describes how the elders of Israel had taken idols into their hearts. Idols are often considered graven images before which we bow our knee, but here they are described as entering our hearts. The case of the disappearing ball and the injustice that followed overwhelmed my thoughts and entered my heart.

If a ball can be an idol, anything or anyone can be an idol of our heart. Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods, “The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.” [2]

So, what rules your heart? What thoughts obsess your mind? What can’t you shut off? What would it look like to let go of whatever rules your heart and trust the Lord?

Ezekiel 14:5 states that the Lord wanted to lay hold of the hearts of the elders who were otherwise estranged from him. He wanted their hearts, and he wants ours. But if our hearts, much like the elders of Israel, are otherwise occupied with unmet expectations, beautiful obsessions, even wonderful gifts, there’s not much affection left for the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17).

Four months later, a woman (that newcomer I mentioned) sent me a very apologetic text message. In it, she admitted to accidentally picking up my ball, and that it found its way into a dark corner of her garage. She was incredibly embarrassed, but probably not as much as I am every time I tell this story. The whereabouts of that stupid ball had my heart, instead of the Lord of the universe.

One of my seminary professors once said that we are never more in danger of being in sin than when we are most convinced that we are right. He was right.

[1] Paul Tripp. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands p. 79.

[2] Tim Keller. Counterfeit Gods p. 168.

*Photo by Abhishek Chandra on Unsplash

Sue Harris

Sue Harris serves the congregation at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church (Birmingham) as the Women’s Ministry Director. She has a passion for spiritual formation as she earned her Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta in 2014. She served Mission to the World for nine years challenging PCA congregations in missions as well as serving missionaries on the field through encouragement, teaching and short-term teams. Previously, she spent 12 years as a college women’s basketball coach, earning her MBA at Texas Woman’s University.