I've been contemplating this story from my college days this week. So for anyone who feels like they've veered off track, here's some encouragement:
It was my first new bike ever. A beautiful apple-red mountain bike, with a shiny black seat and real, honest-to-goodness gears. Not many gears, but gears all the same. Unfortunately, it was also the cheapest new bike I could find. In the weeks before heading off to college, I had scoured the newspaper ads to find the very lowest price for a new bike. Eventually, I found it.
I didn’t realize my mistake until a few months later when I was late to Chemistry class. I pedaled hard up the last hill. Gears crunched, wheels turned, my backpack slipped sideways on my shoulder. Then, it happened. With a sharp crack, followed by a loud clunk, the left pedal broke and fell off my bike. I swerved off the path, brushed against a tall pine, and finally crunched into an old wooden bench. I looked down at the spot where the pedal should have been and at the fresh smear of grease on my pantleg.
Then, I propped the bike against the bench and went back to retrieve the pedal. Surely I could just stick it back on, or screw it in, or do something to make it stay put. But it wasn’t that easy. With the right tool, and a couple small parts, the pedal could be fixed. But that didn’t help me now, on the side of the bike path, five minutes late to Chemistry 101.
So, I popped the pedal into a pouch in my backpack, climbed back on the shiny black seat, pointed the bike in the right direction, and pushed my foot against the one pedal that was left. After two wobbly revolutions of the wheels, I quit. Trying to ride a bike with only one pedal was not only impractical, it was impossible. The bike was still apple red, the seat still shiny, the gears still working as they should. Everything was just right, except for the one missing pedal. But that’s all it took for the whole bike to be useless for its purpose. So, there I was, with a perfectly good bike, minus one pedal, walking to class and pushing the bike beside me.
I learned two valuable lessons that day: First, cheapest is not always best. And second, more importantly, both pedals need to be attached for a bike to go.
The second lesson has come back to me often over the years since college. I don’t ride a bike much anymore, but there still have been plenty of times when my daily life seemed to be veering off the path and heading toward the pines. When, no matter how hard I was trying to pedal uphill, I just couldn’t get things to work. And in those times, most of my life still looked right – the shiny parts were still shiny, the gears still worked as they should. But something had gotten lost or loosened along the way. Something had to be fixed before my life could pedal up the straight path again.
Sometimes that something was a relationship that needed mending, or a habit that had to be changed. Sometimes it was fear replacing faith, or a hidden anger that things hadn’t gone as I’d hoped. Most often, something had gone awry spiritually. I was too busy to take the time needed to maintain an intimate relationship with God. So, the pedal of trust grew loose and my life wobbled into the trees. When that happens, I’ve found that I need to stop trying to push forward, get off the bike for a moment, and see what’s wrong. Then, it’s time to ask God to repair my broken parts and make me whole.
In those times, I often pray the words of Psalm 51:10-12 (NIV): “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
And God is more than willing to replace my pedals and help me back onto the path He’s chosen for me.