We can reach eternal Glory one fall at a time… For ours is a MERCIFUL God!
Last year, just before winter, I decided that the time had come for me to finally learn to ride a bicycle… Before you burst into laughter at the thought of an almost 40 year old woman trying to ride a bicycle when she has no balance, terrible hand-eye coordination and absolutely no muscle tone in any part of her entire body, spare a thought for the humiliation of such an endeavour at this age!
After all – most normal Australian children learned to ride a bicycle when they are only little. And when I was little, my parents bought me a lovely new expensive beautiful pink bike about one size too big for me so that I would be able to grow into it. Big mistake for them. I gave it a shot once on the road in front of my house while my dad held me steady. He let go before I was ready, I fell off, thought bikes were a total waste of time, and never bothered getting back on again.
And then, once when I was in year 10, I rode on the front of a tandem bicycle with the Year 10 PE Teacher riding behind me while on a school camp because bike riding was compulsory and she could not leave me behind unsupervised. It was the most marvellous fun in the world, and afterwards, inspired by this newfound joy, a couple of my friends tried to teach me how to balance on my own on a bicycle – but it was just too hard for me to manage at the time – I was too scared, and I just gave up.
Until last year… That is when I decided that enough was enough. I could not let a two wheeled contraption get the better of me. I was going to conquer this thing! But that was not as easy as it seems…
Firstly, learning to ride a bicycle takes space. It is not the sort of thing that you can just figure out in the backyard – believe me, I tried. The problem with our backyard is that by the time I turned the pedals a few times on my own, I had reached the end of the path and was unable to balance myself any further as it was time for me to turn the bike back around. So that means, that the only way to really learn how to ride one of these things, is to brave the quiet cul-de-sac where I live and use the open street. It had to be done, and so, in utter humiliation, I waited until midday on a quiet weekday when all the neighbours were at work, having a noon-time meal – or better yet a siesta – and wheeled my eldest son’s bicycle down my driveway to get started, because I was jusing his bicycle to teach myself.
The day was wet. Perfect, I thought to myself. Much better. Now, nobody will be around to see my humiliation. I could not ask my husband for help. He was against the whole idea. Having a wife battered and bruised from a million falls off a bicycle was not something that appealed to him and he had long ago washed his hands of the whole performance. But I was determined. I was going to learn. I was smart enough to teach all three of my children how to ride a bicycle – so it was clear I knew the theoretical basics – surely I must be smart enough to teach myself!
Over and over again I rode down the road until finally – just when I thought I would definitely fail for good – I actually got the hang of it. For one perfect moment, I was flying down the street on my own two wheels – wind in my hair, drizzling rain in my face. For a moment – just a moment – everything seemed perfect.
But then… I forgot how to pedal, balance and steer at the same time. My front wheel involuntarily twisted into the gutter, I was flung forward straight onto my right knee – but not my thick skull, thank God – and my bike riding days were put on hold for a little while, while the deep bone bruising in my knee healed (my knee is still not entirely back to normal – believe it or not)…
I have been thinking about this experience with the bicycle over the last few days, as I struggle to lean on my knee when I kneel down in Mass, and it occurred to me that learning to ride a bicycle is like learning to live a life pleasing to God.
There are often false starts. Sometimes, like when I was a child with the bike, something happens and we fall and we get scared. When that happens, it can be very easy to turn away from God. Bad things happen to good people and we think, surely I do not wish to have a God like that. I will enjoy my life. I will seize the day and I will ignore God and the hereafter. That is not a problem for today. I can live without it.
And then, as we grow older, and as times passes, something changes. Perhaps, like me with my PE teacher, we encounter someone or something that shows us how exhilarating it can be to know God. Perhaps we feel the perfect joy of the wind in our face and the power that comes of controlling those two wheels as we speed down the road. Maybe at that time we even try to imitate that example ourselves. But then, just as I did when friends tried to show me how to ride that bicycle myself, our fear overwhelms us, and we just cannot do it. It is just too hard! And so, we tell ourselves, “No. Doesn’t matter anyway. Who needs to know how to ride a bicycle? It’s not that important.”
But then we meet other people. My husband and all three children ride bicycles. When they wish to ride to their grandparents’ home, I follow behind on foot, watching all the fun from a distance and I think to myself. “Gosh I want to join in too.”
And so, just as I did with my bicycle last year, we think to ourselves, “Better late than never. I am going to try this again.” And so, at first we try to work on it privately. No need to tell anyone else about it. No need to share it. It is a private matter – just between us and God. We can keep it to ourselves – in our home, in our backyard. But eventually, there is simply not enough space to do what we need to do, and so we have to sneak out onto the street. There the neighbours can see us. We know we are going to fail. We know we are going to fall down. And we know we are going to look like total idiots… But there is no other way.
And so there we go. We try again and again while people around us – people who love us – tell us, “Please don’t. Please stop. It’s dangerous. This isn’t like you. You don’t need it.” They do not tell us this out of hatred – but out of misguided love. They are worried for us. They cannot understand this desire that we have to try something new. They can see the suffering along the Way of the Cross, but not the LOVE, and through this ignorance, they cannot understand how one would seek it out…
And finally – just for a moment – everything aligns and we are cruising down the road balancing beautifully on our own two wheels, with the wind in our hair and the light drizzle of rain in our faces, and we think – how marvellous is this? How wonderful!
And then it all comes crashing down. We lost control. We fall. We fail. We stop.
Thank God we have the example of Christ… He fell three times on His way to Calvary. Each time He fell, He fell without a word of excuse. And each time He got back up again without a word and carried on.
And that, my friends, is the most important part of learning to ride a bicycle. Not the humiliation, the determination or even the glorious wind in our hair… It is the getting back up when we fall off, climbing back on as soon as we can, and carrying on – without a word.
Because at the end of the day – that is how we reach Eternal Glory… One fall at a time… For ours is a merciful God… An infinitely merciful God! How merciful is our Lrod and God, King of the Universe!
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.