Twenty-five years ago, Lisa was pregnant, and we both sensed that life as we knew it had come to an end. Saturday mornings devoted to quiet reading or evenings spent over a candlelit dinner with friends would soon be pockmarked with a rambunctious baby crying for attention. To celebrate the coming change, we packed up our bicycles and took off for a tour of New England. Lisa’s pregnancy was indiscernible when we began in upstate New York, but unmistakable when we returned five weeks and almost 2,000 miles later. Our pace was slow, and the term quickening was applied to tiny Karis rather than the speed of our riding.
In October 1984, Karis came into the world. Soon enough Peter and Davis came, too. And then, a whole lot of laundry loads later, they were all gone. Karis got married, Peter moved to San Diego, and Davis started college. To employ the oft-used metaphor, our nest was suddenly empty. And so…we did what any sane couple would do…. We packed up our bikes and flew to New England. Our five-week ride before the children became a nine-day excursion after they were gone, and the campgrounds of 1984 had been replaced by drive-in motels in 2009. But the bikes were pretty much the same, and Lisa and I hadn’t changed a bit. We rode, should you be interested, about 400 miles. It didn’t rain, it was often really cold, and the autumn leaves were in their glory!
Riding a bike for nine days gives one pause to think. Time to ponder and contemplate. It strikes me as I ride that I have more reasons to give thanks than there are leaves on the trees of New Hampshire. I love my wife. My health is good, as is Lisa’s. My children are alive, blessed, and have more than a modicum of happiness. Furthermore, they seem to like us, their mom and dad. Best of all, to borrow a phrase from the Puritans, they give evidence of being born again. They love Jesus. In addition to all this, my parents live two miles from my home, they are healthy, and they, too, seem to like us. After all these years, we love our church and the people in it. Furthermore, we have grown in our love for and enjoyment of God. But none of the above is my point.
As we rode through the fall foliage, it struck me that bicycling, specifically bicycle-touring, contains many metaphors for life itself. Consider three:
Life, like bike riding, brings varied terrain. It would be nice if bike touring were all downhill with a tailwind. It would be terrific if there were no traffic. But that’s not the way it works. A bike tour has hills and valleys, headwinds and tailwinds, great vistas and dirty factories. To experience the exhilaration of a long downhill, we have to pump up the other side of the mountain. To see the top of the mountain, you have to see the lumber mill at the foot of the hill. So also in life. A good marriage, a good job, a good ministry – in short, a life well lived before God will involve its share of huffing and puffing up one side of the mountain. But the muscle rebellion, the sheer fatigue, is worth it. As Paul put it, For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Life, like bike touring, brings the unexpected. Biking, for us, is really fun. But every tour has the moment when one or both of us say, And why did we want to do this? You think you are almost there and you can barely turn the cranks only to be told by a local, Yes, the town you are looking for is just down the road, about fifteen miles, I think… You expected sunshine and instead it is raining and cold. You thought it was going to be a quiet backcountry road, and instead it seems like a trucker’s convention is about to begin down the street. At such moments you wish your bicycle were a Harley, but you press on, and the pressing on often brings the best part of the day. I remember taking shelter from the rain while climbing a mountain in Switzerland only to be fed lunch by a Swiss family on vacation. I remember laughing silly with some very kind Germans who wanted to converse with these Yankees who were sitting in an Austrian café waiting for the rain to stop. Often the interruptions become what is memorable; the encumbrance becomes the remembrance.
It is in the unexpected that we often experience tiny moments of grace. We help a stranger and discover he was an angel. We are asked for directions and end up finding a friend. We experience tragedy and maybe we find God.
In life, like bike touring, follow the map. Self-evident, you say? Well, not to me. One day on our ride we had a long day planned: we thought we’d be riding over 70 miles. It was our intention to get up and get going. The day before, I thought I heard a man say, Just follow Route 4. Stay on it, all the way to Meredith. With instructions so clear, who needs to consult the AAA map? We put our heads down and rode. And rode and rode. At one junction Lisa asked, Should we turn here? Being a man who sees map-reading as a sign of spiritual and physical weakness, I was compelled to answer, No, let’s keep going. We’re making good time.
Making good time does one no good when he is going the wrong way. My failure to read the map took us ten miles in the wrong direction. We never made Meredith and missed one of the prettiest stops on our tour. Life is like a bike ride. We need the map, and we need to read and follow the map. As the psalmist writes,Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (119:105). Life is like a bike tour. When we read and follow the map of God’s Word, we will get to our destination in His good time.
If bike touring teaches us anything about the Christian life, it teaches, finally, that perseverance wins the prize. Keep turning the cranks, keep spinning the gears, and you’ll get to your destination. Brothers and sisters, bike touring is optional; perseverance in the Christian life is not. Let’s see to it that we finish the race and find the One whose glory will sustain us for eternity. As the apostle Paul put it, Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus(Philippians 3:13-14).