I am sharing this story in honor of National Bike to Work Day/Week.
When I was a young boy I asked my parents for a bike, a cool BMX type. So I began to save for it. I did not get an allowance so this took quite a while, a Christmas and a couple Birthdays. When I finally bought the bike I looked at how awesome it was and watched as my brother took off with it for a spin, since I did not know how to ride a bike. For a long time (a year or so) I would come in and look at the bike and dream about riding it, but I was afraid, and since my father would not let us use training wheels it was all the more scary.
One day my father, in frustration of the money I spent and the non-use of the bike, gave me the ultimatum to “use it or lose it!” He took me out front and promised to hold onto the seat behind me while I peddled. Within no time I was peddling and going pretty fast, until I realized that my father was no longer holding onto my seat and I panicked.
When I asked him why he let go he proudly stated that he had never held my seat and I was biking on my own. I complained that he had lied and, more importantly, made me fall. To which he replied “ you made it all the way around the cul-de-sac on your own before you fell!” To which I noted that I had fallen and that was painful!
My dad then said, “Everyone falls when they learn to ride a bike. I could have made that easier for you if you had training wheels, but you still would have fallen, that happens, it’s life. Now you understand how to ride a bike and you know the pain of falling.” My dad was not the spare-the-pain type of parent! Something I think my brothers and I are thankful for.
People often ask me those difficult questions of theodicy (the search for a theological understanding for why bad things happen to good people) and I have learned that much of the best verbiage and articulated theology, comes as close to that blunt statement from my father, “people fall, it hurts, that’s life.” For an eight year old it was not the most “pastoral” way of dealing with pain. Though it was the most truthful!
I think in a family that is not really bestowed with the best of luck, there is a comfortability with that mystery of “why,” recognizing that there is always something else. A great study of theodicy is the lament psalms, which cry out asking why but always recognizing that there is something more with God.
Sometimes it is important to not dwell on the pain, either the avoidance or trying to understand, because that often takes us away from living life. I think often about how after I learned my lesson, though I still fell a few more times, I had respect for my bike and biking became a big part of my life.
I know this may sound trivial, the pain of learning how to ride a bike and the deep pains experienced in life are two very different things. I agree, they are. However, I also know that whether minor or major, pain and confusion that hold us back from living hold us back from fully accepting and living into the fullness of what our life with God is supposed to be.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen