In June of 2009 I took a risk: I rode a bicycle for the first time since the era of braces & bangs (a.k.a. junior high).
At first I was wobbly and had to re-learn the gears. With careful patience, I was soon cruising up and down hills along the Mississippi River. By the time I climbed off of the borrowed bicycle, I was making plans to purchase my own two wheels.
Later that year, I found a mountain bike that was affordable and versatile. A bike ride left me with the same feeling as a yoga class. Because I had to focus on what was right in front of me, I could easily forget what had weighed on my mind. Worries seemed to blow away with the wind against my back. I would return home with ideas for “Bicycle Theology”—musings that I wrote for this blog about encountering God in the pedaling.
Along came the year 2012. I moved from Natchez’s gravel roads to the delta’s flat soil. The bicycle made the trek north, too, but something had changed. The mountain bike was no longer comfortable. I thought about trading it in for a road bike. I thought about getting different tires. I tried to ride early each morning, but I dreaded the exercise that I once anticipated.
The truth was: I no longer wanted to ride the bike.
I wanted to walk on two feet at a neighborhood trail instead of riding two wheels around town. I put the bicycle in the storage room and laced up my sneakers.
Then my dog, Isaac, appeared. I had to learn to walk him, and he had to learn to walk me. I told myself that one day I would train him to run alongside the bike. But the more I walked with Isaac, the more clearly I could hear God speak. The wind of the Spirit that had whispered to me on the bicycle was now speaking to me at the pace of a puppy.
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19a, New Revised Standard Version)
Change is difficult because it includes an ending and a beginning. As Isaiah wrote, clinging to the old prevents us from embracing the new. God is constantly presenting us with changes so that we can be more honest with ourselves. How often do we avoid risk-taking in favor of what’s comfortable, familiar, and easy?
We tend to think of change as sudden and drastic. Sometimes, change is much more gradual. God gently eases us into the new in areas as simple as our hobbies. Perhaps in these simple changes God wishes to teach us great truths.
I’m grateful that I took the risk of that bicycle ride five years ago. I’m also grateful that this summer I took another risk and said “farewell” to the bicycle that had brought me much joy and “theology.” My old bike has a new owner. What "old" part of your life might God want to use for someone else's new beginning?
all good things to each of you,
P.S. Before I bought my bicycle, I borrowed one from the friend of a friend who had a baby. The bike had an baby seat on the back, and another friend dared me to ride around Natchez with a doll in the baby seat. So, I did.
It's a blessing to make people laugh.
Healthy laughter is a balm for mind, body, and spirit. When I speak of healthy laughter, I’m not talking about the nervous, jilted, hesitant laughter of politeness we manage when a minister tells a terribly unfunny joke. (Yes, I’m guilty.) Healthy laughter is the sound of a delight-filled response. Healthy laughter is an expression of more than happiness. It’s a manifestation of joy we may not have known existed in our souls.
Last week, I received a number of emails, texts, and calls from folks who read the blog post, “How Not to Get a Date With An Unmarried Female Pastor.” Every single one had the same, bottom-line message:
I appreciate any and all feedback to this blog, but a resounding message of laughter blessed me in a way that’s hard to describe. Creating something that brings joy to the surface is humbling and special.
On Monday, the entertainment world tragically lost an artist whose career blossomed out of his ability to elicit laughter. Robin Williams’ name is the headline of the evening news, the most-searched on websites, and the topic of many conversations. Questions accompany any death, but they multiply in the wake of a suicide—especially in the suicide of someone who seemed to “specialize” in laughter.
A question that tugs at many souls is one of blame—whose fault was this tragedy? The question of fault not only arises in suicide but also in the illnesses of depression and addiction, with which Williams struggled. It is human nature to wonder whom or what we can blame for the unexplainable.
Could I have prevented this? Is there something I could have done?
If only I had called her more often…
Did Mom and Dad divorce because of something I did?
This diagnosis is all because I haven’t been eating right….
Blame leads to guilt. Guilt leads to regrets. Regrets plant us in the past to the point that we can’t move forward. We don’t know the darkness that Robin Williams, or any victim of suicide, experiences. All we know is that it’s a tragedy when the laughter is swallowed in darkness. Sometimes the easiest persons to blame for the consequences of darkness are ourselves.
In his Oscar-winning role for Good Will Hunting, Williams played a counselor and professor named Sean Maguire who tries to help the title character, played by Matt Damon. Sean spends hours sitting with, and sometimes listening to, this young, brilliant, troubled young man. Their friendship does not happen immediately. Trust has to build over the course of the film. When Will finally opens up about his troubled childhood, we begin to see that Will has blamed himself for his father’s alcoholism for years. We realize that Will thinks his abandonment as a child was his own fault.
Sean holds up Will’s file, filled with papers about his life, and says , “This is not your fault.”
Will shrugs and smugly says, “I know.”
Sean leans toward him. “It’s not your fault.”
Will nods. “I know.”
Sean’s voice grows quieter as he moves towards Will. “It’s not your fault.”
Will, restless, repeats, “I know.”
Sean gets closer. “It’s not your fault.”
Will moves away from him. “I know!”
Sean moves closer and closer to Will, saying, “It’s not your fault.” Will curses, then begins to cry. Sean reaches out his arms, and Will eventually reaches for him, too. They embrace. Will sobs. If we listen closely, we still hear Sean’s gentle mantra: “It’s not your fault.”
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17, New King James Version)
Yes, we are all sinners. Yes, we all make mistakes. Yes, we need to look within our hearts to see how we need to change and whom we need to forgive. There’s always room for improvement in all of our lives. But why do we fill the rooms of our souls with unnecessary self-condemnation when Christ is walking towards us with salvation?
As Sean walked towards Will, Christ walks toward us. He asks us to let go of the blame and guilt and regrets we’ve nurtured for too long. When there is a void where the laughter once resounded, let us reach for the arms that are already reaching for us.
all good things to each of you,
Here is the clip from Good Will Hunting, which contains language that gave it an R-rating.