“I went to the ocean, took my shoes off, started to run [or cycle], and invited Jesus to come along. … All I had to do was invite Him.”
─John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be, Kindle location 2783
“Cycling is like sailing on land, the wind, the oneness, the freedom!”
It’s been over 18 months since my last neck surgery. Eighteen months of recovery, of trying to see what my body can and can’t do, and saving money for a new bicycle. Yes, a new bike; a Trek 1.5 to be exact.
My old bike (a 1987 Trek Elance) no longer fit my new triple-fusion neck. But I love to bike. I miss biking. Running just isn’t the same; plus, with a solid rod of bone now banging around in my cervical area running mercilessly batters the few remaining disks I have left. When the run is over my neck explodes in spasms to such a degree I wind up throwing down 600-800mg of ibuprofen, which sorta defeats the purpose of clean living. Then there’s the hamstring issue. And walking, while a great activity is…well…walking. You can’t just go out do 42 miles in the morning like you can on a bike (like the great ride I had yesterday).
But how does Jesus fit into to this? Is my desire to bike detracting from my faith in Jesus? Does Jesus even care if I bike or not?
I used to always live with the mindset that if I wasn’t suffering I wasn’t serving the Lord. Oh brother, how appealing is that. Nowhere in that thinking is there room for God to rain any sort of blessing upon me or those around me. Talk about living with a cloud over my head, it’s like that character Shleprock from the old Flintstones cartoon (yes, I’m showing my age), everywhere he shuffled he was followed by this little dark cloud hovering just above his head.
Yes, I give and serve and go through trials. But holding these things up as some sort of merit badge is not something Jesus condones. What He does condone is entering into His rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Part of the way I rest is on my bike. I recognize it is a physically demanding sport, but at the same time it is a highly rejuvenating sport as well. I get to be outdoors in the fresh air (except when the fields are being harvested or big diesel trucks are chugging by). I get to feel my body working and revel in the fact that I’m physically restored enough to cycle again. All of this points my heart and mind toward Jesus. Why, you ask?
Who created the outdoors? Sure, there are nay-sayers and God-rejecters, but no one can properly explain where the origin of everything came from. A strictly utilitarian universe wouldn’t have as much beauty as the Willamette Valley has; only a God of creativity and love would make such a beautiful place. For instance, the other morning I was on my bike a little before sunrise. As I looked east I saw Mt. Hood in all its majesty way off in the distance. This time, however, the mountain was shimmering with a bright pink aura. It was simply stunning; the sun was directly behind the mountain emblazing it in a pink backlight making it look like Mt. Hood itself was eclipsing the sun.
On other rides I have seen rainbows of flowers in carefully cultivated fields, talked with friendly locals in nearby towns while buying water and thought through a number of difficult work-related problems.
And the fact I’m physically able to do this again is such a blessing I can’t help but pray thankful prayers out loud for anyone in earshot. Being unable to ride for so long has given me a much deeper appreciation for the opportunity to ride again. Sure, I enjoyed riding before, but I could basically ride whenever I could fit one in. When my spine started deteriorating and I could no longer ride, I missed it like an old friend. Riding is a time of solace for me, it’s my time to get away and feel free with the wind and the exertion. I was thankful for being able to walk, but it just wasn’t the same.
However, another important lesson through the season of deprivation is training my mind to be more thankful for what I can do. Stop focusing on what I can’t do and strive to lean more deeply into what I can do. This thinking enables me to be more thankful to God and more cheerful and empathetic with others that are suffering. Through all this time, I recovered enough to realize that with the proper fitting bike, I could get on the road again. Now with new bike, cleated shoes, and my Road ID wrist band I’m on the road a lot these days. This time last year it was only a dream as I watched cyclists streaking by while on one of my walks.
While cycling is a positive hobby because of its fitness benefits it is also a solid spiritual discipline because I celebrate life and praise God while I’m on the bike, even in strong headwinds and malfunctioning cyclometers. Even with quads screaming and chest heaving, I praise God I’m alive…the pain only confirms how alive I am! And I’m thankful…thankful for fitness, for the bike, for a wonderful Bride that understands…and for a God that carried me through the darker spots of deprivation.
It is good to be alive!