Saturday, September 2, 2006

The Crucible of Suffering

I was struck again today by how apt a metaphor for our lives riding a bicycle is and remains. I've had long discussions with my close friend Emily about this in the last several weeks, and as I went on a ride this morning, was struck again by just how powerful an analogy it is, and in an altogether new way. I had seen the powerful parallels in the area of trust - the more you trust the machine, the less likely you are to fall; and the more trust you put in it, the more difficult the falls. What the Spirit showed me today was no less valuable, though a bit different.

I met Steph and Amber at 7:30 am, and we took off riding. We were taking our time, enjoying the feel of Norman - a little foggy, pretty cool (especially for early September), thoroughly gray everywhere. It was, in short beautiful. I have a new bicycle this year, and I was enjoying using it immensely: the gearing is far better, the brakes actually work the way they're supposed to; in short, it was fantastic to be on the new bike, because it's sleeker, lighter, has more power, and is just generally better-made. There are, however, risks that accompany these benefits. These didn't become clear until well along into our ride.

We had covered a few miles of road and were swinging around a corner onto a new street. Because of the fog, and last night's rain, the ground was wet everywhere, and not drying. Puddles of standing water remained near the curb on every street. None of this was proving too much of an issue, as the tires on my bike grip the ground fairly well even when wet, and as long as I avoided the puddles, there was little to no difficulty. Or at least, so it seemed. As I came around the corner, maintaining a fairly steady pace, I leaned into the turn. On this particular corner, there was a little gravel, but I thought nothing of it at first. I was used to riding a mountain bike, with thick, knobby tires of the sort that basically ignore gravel unless it's a pretty solid coating across the ground. However, I was not riding that old bike - and all the advantages of the new bike had the unforeseen consequence of increasing the risk in this situation. With thinner tires, generally better handling, and a lighter frame, the bike works much better - but it also made it far easier for it to slide on the gravel. My back tire slipped, and down I went. Hard. Very hard, actually; I took off a solid nickel-sized chunk of skin from my right palm, two or perhaps three layers of skin down. I probaby bruised the muscle in my right wrist as well. After I picked myself back up, we walked to a nearby gas station where I cleaned myself up. And then we rode back to the dorms. The pain wasn't decreasing in the least - quite the opposite, in fact.

What, you're probably asking, does this have to do with a spiritual analogy regarding our lives? It's a pretty simple relationship, actually. Just as increasing the power and quality of the bike made my overall riding much better, so ramping up the quality of our walk with God - pursuing Him more deeply and letting Him work more deeply in our hearts to renew us and make better tools out of us - causes our daily existence to simply function better. As we draw nearer to Him and are more actively in His will, we find that we have a greater measure of peace, are less insecure (for even when the situation is confusing, we are assured that He really is in control), and are able to function as servants to those around us. At the same time, by pursuing Him more actively and in having a machine, so to speak, that can move more agilely and quickly, we also increase our risk threshold significantly. Not only does God allow greater tests to continue to prove our faith (testing our responsibility - to whom much has been given, much will be required; and testing our courage - when troubles come, do we shirk back to our old ways or continue to walk in the strength He's given us in the renewing of our minds?), but also the demonic realm intensifies its attack against us. The greater a threat we are - the better our spiritual bicycle works, if you will - the more dangerous the situations our enemy throws at us. There's a reason we're encouraged by Paul to "take up the full armor of God" - because it's absolutely a necessity. In short, we take on a great deal of risk, as well as the blessings of the greater giftings, as our walk with Christ grows deeper. The stronger our walk, the harder the falls - but the more rewarding the recovery from them, and the journey itself.

There's also a lesson to be learned from the wounding itself. I fell, and fell hard. That did not, however, stop me from getting up and walking on - and, once I had cleaned out the wounds, riding again to get back to the dorms. In the same way, we do fall and fail at times in our walk with God: we hit wet patches of gravel and go sliding out of control, stumbling into sin and crashing into doubt or disbelief. That does not condemn us, however, in His loving eyes. He picks us up again, sets us on our feet, helps clean out the wounds, and rights our spiritual walks - so long as we let Him. And as we begin riding again, He reminds us that, though we have fallen, we are no longer intrinsically fallen. Though we stumble, we no longer walk in darkness, but are lifted by His infinite grace into light, and though we fall into sin, we are raised into His righteousness. He's the one who makes the machine run, and when we take wounds as we pursue Him, He fixes us, as well.

So next time you fall, get up and keep riding, and remember that the risks of a better bike are born out by the greater fulfillment. And the next time you stumble spiritually, get up and keep walking, and realize again that the cost of following Christ is more than cancelled out by the excellence of the way He has prepared for us.

- Chris

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