“Gosh, I can hear the Bible as I’m riding,” I thought as I pushed a little faster than I wanted to and shot down the hill on two thin tires at 38 miles per hour, keenly aware there was nothing between my skin and the asphalt but a thin jersey and bike shorts. Others must surely have seen the same parallels riding on the back of a tandem road bike; now I entered their cadre, not entirely willingly. I ride with a man who loves cycling. Before I met him I enjoyed riding my bike to the grocery store and back, and noodling around the neighborhood on evening pleasure rides. He, however, is of the “conquer the hills, the faster, the better” squadron, and he knows I’ll love riding once I get more miles under me and build up my endurance. Humph.
I look at the hill he’d love to climb, at least an 8% grade all the 20-mile way to the top of the mountain, and I shudder. I never want to be THAT fit! When we ride independently, I usually “flake off” at the eight-mile mark, cut across a road lined seasonally with wildflowers and with a walking/biking path where I’ll generally find someone to stop, say hello to, and pray with. The surprise of a perfect stranger offering to pray for them delights me. I am God’s carrier pigeon on two wheels, bringing a word of His love to someone in their day, and I have fun being part of the “air drops” He allows me to make.
I remember riding on the handlebars or on the back book rack od my brother’s bike. That was fun, and I didn’t have to do any of the work
But when I’m on the back of the tandem …. new rules apply.
- Where he’s going, I have to go. (And last week wearing his jersey and staring at his dorsal side, I wryly thought of how Peter must have felt when Jesus told him, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18 and Amen!)
- I can’t see or control where we are going.
- As far as he goes, I have to go. (And I thought of the woman in the cycling club who replied to her husband’s comment that she wasn’t giving him enough on the back of the bike, “If I give it all to you know, you aren’t getting any of it when we get home!”)
- I have to match his pedaling speed because I’m “clipped in.” (Because against my protests, he did put clip pedals on and even bought me cycling shoes to lock into the clips so I can “give it more power” and use my hamstrings too. My hamstrings were quite happy letting my quads do the work, thank you very much, quit when they got tired, and I liked being able to freely leap off my bike if I started to fall.)
- Which brings me to this point: if he falls, I fall.
- When he stops, I stop. (Generally gratefully. At intersections I counterbalance his foot on the ground.)
- I’m dependent upon his judgment and character.
These may sound like negatives, and in some ways they are, but I choose to rename them “sobering realities.” He has a few “sobering realities” to face as well:
- He has to put his muscle to the pedals, but if I so choose, I can pretty much rest in his strength when I’m tired.
- I can take my hands off the handlebars and sit upright because he’s steering.
- I can communicate my needs/limitations, and he will out of consideration choose an easier or shorter route. (or face my stiff neck, sore wrists and sat-out seat)
- When my energy is used up, it’s up to him to get us home.
- If I shift my weight, he has to compensate to keep us upright. (Whew, I have to learn to reach for my water bottle without leaning to either side)
- He is responsible for my safety.
I have heard the test of a relationship is if you can ride a tandem without killing each other. The rule is: what happens on the bike, stays on the bike. But every time I click my feet into those pedals, the word “captivity” springs to mind: the state or period of being held, imprisoned, enslaved, or confined. BUT that is one perspective, half of the truth. The other truth is that riding on the tandem makes a way for me to be with my friend and do what i couldn’t do, without great exertion, on my own.
I also know this is true about lasting relationship: “Perfect romantic love never does last, of course. Under the best conditions, it evolves into something more realistic and lasting, where two imperfect people discover one another’s virtues and faults, grow to appreciate the goodness in each other but also to accept the disappointments.” I have to add, though I’d rather not, learn to accept challenges to grow, stretch, get stronger.
As I crank my heart out grinding up the second or third of the of the “only one more hill” hills, I sometimes ruefully sing the old song to myself:
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.
I’m half-crazy all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage.
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.
The tandem truth is that, in sending Jesus, God made a way for us to receive what we can’t do out of our own strength or “righteousness”: ride with him, depending on his strength, endurance, blood, love.
A rabbi’s disciples always walked in the dust of their teacher, following in his footsteps wherever he lead them. Jesus’ disciples did the same, and if I want to be His disciple today, I’m going to have to put in some miles. I can’t keep up with him our my own limited resources and “goodness,” but i can clip into the pedals behind him and ride where he’s going.The disciples were on two feet; I’m on two feet with you, Jesus, and sometimes literally on two wheels in the company of some of your competitive “conquer the mountain, harder, faster, longer, first” children who don’t know you yet, but need to. All I want to conquer is the enemy of my soul, not the pavement! Stop and smell the Texas sage, people! There are lonely folks to be prayed for out there…. but they ride on. Sigh.
Okay. Once a week, at least, I saddle up as sidekick. Hop on the back of the bike and lock in with Jesus, who genuinely is crazy about you and me, as you read these verses. Ask the Holy Spirit if and how they might apply to your life today:
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, Hebrews 10:23-24 NIV
Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1: 4-8 NIV
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalm 31:3
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:26
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[Proverbs 3:5-6a]
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31
Oh, God, that’s what you want for me, isn’t it? Rats! I’d much rather noodle around the neighborhood and never get serious about going somewhere with the faith and gifts and strengths you’ve given to, and invested in, me. I’d rather quit when I feel tired, hop off when I want, go where I want at the speed I want and not be obligated to anyone for how long it takes me to get nowhere in particular. But I have a sneaking suspicion – and last week at a conference I heard a “name of God” for the first time: “Jehovah Sneaky” – that you want me to do something with the talents and desires and gifts you put in me, you want me to follow the road you planned for me, to go as far as You want to go, willingly stop when you stop, and trust your love for me whether I can see where we’re going or not. I recall speaking on this subject ten years ago, but then I hadn’t been required to walk down a road I never wanted to travel, for longer than I wanted to be in battle and in limbo. Now I’ve had to live it, and it hasn’t been rainbows, bunnies and flowers. It’s been hard, uphill, in the dark, in the rain, against the wind, and a challenge to keep my heart free from bitterness, anger, pulling away from you and fear every turn of the wheel.
God, you told me two things over two years ago: “You’re worth fighting for” and “You are my chosen child. Don’t be afraid of what man tries to do to you.” You didn’t tell me where we were going, how long the road would be, or how steep the climb. I suspect my fear and inability to hang on made this trip take longer and be harder than it needed to be. Did I switch places and try to be the one in front? Did I let go of “manna” you gave me because I was grieving too hard? Well, I know you forgive me and your mercy is new every morning. I want to take the back seat now and let you pull me up the hill, pump hard when I can’t, stop when i/we need to, and yes, I desperately need to trust your character to take responsibility for my safety.
A “…BUT…” to pray: God, I know you want my life to count and have meaning. I do, too, but honestly, “clipping in” with you makes me feel _____________________________________________________. I know you understand, because you know I’m human, and not seeing where we’re going , I feel ____________________________________________. But I know you love me and your plans for me are for good, not for evil, so as I ride with you, Jesus, I’ll give my best to _______________________________________________________________________________________ and I’m leaning on you, holding on to your character and love, and asking you to ______________________________________________________________________________________. When I start to lean, slip, get tired or want to quit and go home, please _______________________________________________________________. Thank you that you “know my frame” and you love me even in my weakness, as well as in my strength. I need your renewing strength to _______________________________________________________________________________. Thank you that you wont quit on me! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!
I go deep, but I do come up for air sometimes and frankly relish the times I can feel relaxed. Even more, I enjoy the times God surprises me. I’m not an serious bike rider; my riding consisted of going up to the grocery store, riding my son down to his preschool and then myself over to substitute teach at a local school, or just riding around the neighborhood for fun. I do enjoy riding, but a nice flat bike path is my preferred route. Recently, though, I’ve been challenged to “kick it up a notch’ and try real road biking, complete with loooooong hills.
Just getting adjusted to a much lighter bike, eleven gears I have no idea how to use, and a man’s frame was challenge enough for me, much less 3%-6% hills! I tried wearing bike shoes with cleats until the painful day early in my trial period when the sole pulled off my shoe as I tried to extract my foot from the pedal to stop. The hole in my tights slightly limited the hole in my knee….
Recently I tackled another ride with my good friend and the bicycle club he rides with. Ever the encourager, he has actually pushed me up a few hills with his hand on my back when I felt my heart rate hitting “let’s just pull over and breathe.” He knows I can do it! But on Wednesday my body decided to speak into his optimism, and after the first loooooong hill I called over to him, “I’m taking a right here, I know how to get back to the starting point!” Before he could object – er, encourage me – strenuously, I took a right and rejoiced at the much flatter road stretching ahead.
After a quarter of a mile or so my heart rate fell back into the “No, you’re not having a heart attack” range, and even though the pavement was rough and I did feel a pang of “Quitter!” rising up in me, I was glad for the chance to breathe normally. But oh, in one mile I knew why I chose that point to bail out of the hill conquering.
It’s been a looooooong time, over five years, since anyone gave me flowers. God gave me tremendous loyalty and the spirit to pray without ceasing for His victory in a tragedy, but sometimes God’s answer is “Not in the way you hoped for.” In all honesty, coming to terms with that answer has weighed on my heart on some of my rides, and carrying the weight of sorrow as well as my own body uphill on a bicycle is a load heavier than I can bear some days. I need to be honest with you all: yes, some days my faith, like King David’s in so many Psalms, cries out to God not understanding His why. I think that was part of my bailing out on this ride.
Imagine the sweet joy, then, of the wildflowers I saw lining the road for half a mile: yellow brittlebush, burgundy Perry penstemon, blue columbine, deep pink Baja fairy duster, orang globe mallow…. I stopped pedaling, propped my bicycle against the rock wall, and stooped to smell the flowers.
My Father makes flowers! All the florists in the world can’t spread out a carpet like God does. Sometimes I’ve marveled at the odd truth that we humans have a sense of beauty. We may not all agree on what makes personal beauty, or even beauty in art, but every person launched into life appreciates the splendor of stars and loveliness of flowers. And why, I wondered, did God bother to make them so lovely? So different? Some so fragrant? Yes, I know they attract bees and moths and other pollinators, but why so colorful?
Did He create them with more than pollination in mind? Why do we women view a gift of a bouquet, or even one single rose, as a gesture of love if God didn’t put HIS love for us into their beauty?
‘I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys,” Song of Solomon 2:1
See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:28-33 NIV
He was calling to me to come down that road, to rest in my Creator and Father’s beauty, to receive a reminder and rest in His love through Jesus, to know most of all I am His, He is mine, and His banner over me is love:
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.” Song of Songs 2:11-13 NIV
My FATHER, your FATHER, extends the single stem of the Blood-red Rose of Sharon in love to you today.