Most things in life happen before you are ready. This seems to be especially true with the hard stuff. Our hearts race and minds search for meaning, but some circumstances resist explanation. Looking at the oozing of blood from my newborn son bore testimony to this fact. Powerless, I stood and watched.
Little did I know it at the time, but this was the start of a great adventure. In coming months and years, this journey would take us through dark moments of despair, and in a strange and ironic way, it would also lead to joy. It would thrust us into the crucible of faith, where we would have to believe what we believe, and in the silence of prayer it would mediate peace that surpasses understanding. Bewildered and broken, we would glimpse into the Pauline paradox: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9).
We Never Arrive
We never arrive until we are home. Pardon the obvious, but think about it. Because we are sojourners and pilgrims in this world, struggle and strain will always attend our steps.
Here is how an old missionary from Africa once put it during a seminary chapel sermon. He had us on the edge of our seats with stories of angry tribal warriors coming into his compound with weapons drawn and violence in their eyes. Somehow, on account of the inexplicable appearance of fog, he and his family managed to escape. He then announced that through such experiences he had learned a valuable lesson about the Christian life. We were attentive, to say the least. He told us:
To understand the Christian life, imagine riding a bicycle in the middle of a two-way street heading up a steep hill. Your job is to keep the bicycle wheels on the yellow line and keep pedaling. If you veer to the left or to the right, with cars zipping past you on both sides, you're road kill. And as you get further up the hill, the forces of gravity and fatigue make pedaling more difficult (so get it out of your head that elderly people go on spiritual cruise control). The challenge continues until the end, and there is no reprieve until we finally arrive home.
At first blush, the analogy struck me as overly man-centered, but then our speaker concluded.
Of course, we do veer off the yellow line. Every single day. And when we do, Jesus' victory---the cross, resurrection and pouring out of the Spirit---provides forgiveness and healing. But we are nevertheless called to pedal. When our legs feel shot and we're unable to proceed, we pray for divine strength, and somehow it comes. This is God's promise: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).
The Adventure Continues
There are days when the struggle feels too difficult. Yes, I believe in the promise of Philippians 1:6, but sometimes the burden feels unbearably heavy. It's the feeling I had, for instance, when my boy with hemophilia initially learned how to ride a bicycle. If you've ever trained a child to ride a bike, you know one thing: the process is full of falling. But falling isn't a viable option when your blood doesn't clot. So I ran behind my son's bike with arms outstretched for an hour, up and down the sidewalk, ready to throw my body onto the pavement as a cushion to break his fall.
Walking home that afternoon, I looked at my boy. Yes, he had fallen, and my lunges were too late, but thankfully the damage was minimal. As I looked down on my son holding my hand, my thoughts naturally went upward to the Father in heaven. I wondered. What is God's posture? What are his thoughts toward us? The old missionary from Africa came to mind. I imagined God saying: Keep pedaling, son, despite your fears. I know all the bumps in the road, and, although you falter and even wipe out, my grace surrounds you to the end.