Monday, February 11, 2013

Sort of Like Riding a Bike: When We Find Identity in Failure

On a recent bike ride returning from one of Sojourn’s Sunday gatherings, I witnessed a young boy trying to learn how to ride his two-wheeler. Clad in his helmet and elbow and knee pads, he got a few pedals in, and then promptly hit the pavement. For a second I noticed him cry, but his mother came to pick him up. I stopped for a second after passing, and noticed he got back up and tried again. I’m sure his next attempt was a little bit better, and he made it a little bit further on his two wheels before possibly falling again.

(In full disclosure, I just recently bought a new bike, and after a few days, this whole bicycle-themed illustration just came together.)

Many times, Christian conversion (where we willingly respond to the gospel call, repenting of sin and placing faith in Christ for salvation) and sanctification (a progressive, life-long work of God and man that frees us from sin, and makes us more like Christ), and Christian life in general, can be loosely compared to the process of learning how to ride a bike. I cannot be the first to make this comparison, and I do not intend to dilute the magnificent graces of salvation and sanctification to something as palatable or cute as a young child learning to ride a bike. Surely, this comparison does not completely describe our lives in Christ. But, it is still can be a helpful illustration, and something that fits into our tendency to identify ourselves with our failures, as opposed to who we are and what we are created to do in Christ.

What might be more thought provoking here is how the Lord constantly reveals himself to us even through mundane or seemingly normal instances, such as riding a bike.

Most of us started riding a bike with training wheels. We needed some guidance to get the hang of things; how to properly rotate our legs to maintain a certain speed, and understand how to stop. This is typical in one's acceptance of Christ, where we are typically surrounded by other Christians, being guided and encouraged in our faith, while attempting to avoid certain dangers. At some point, someone decides that we have outgrown our training wheels, which ultimately limits our freedoms and biking experiences. The Lord does much of the same, allowing us to gain new friends, and experience new things, while also being exposed to potential dangers outside a Christian bubble. Much of this runs parallel to the illustration in Hebrews of milk being the basic principles of the Christian faith, and solid food, or meat, being for those that are mature and "who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:11-14)

We enjoy periods of time where we glide along, enjoying our “ride”. That is until we hit a literal bump in the road, make too sharp a turn, or start showboating (bike ramps as a kid, anyone?). We develop greater wisdom in our riding abilities, but still sometimes fall.

It’s interesting to think that no one usually associates our ability to ride a bike with all of the times we must have fallen on the ground learning to ride, or failures we continue to have. Falling once does not mean you are not able to ride a bike. The same rings true with athletics. In basketball no one tracks the percentage of missed baskets, nor are baseball players defined by their “Failure Averages”. (if they were, they’d sound much less skillful than they really are.) Unless you’re a minor league baseball team in need of a wise-cracking promotion, much like the Altoona Curve’s Awful Night (this seems like an AWESOME promotion), we don’t usually form identities based on failure.

Mercifully, the same holds true for those who are in Christ. I admit that I struggle with finding my identity in certain failures. In many areas of my life, I could consider myself successful. I overachieved in high school. I earned a bachelor’s degree. I was accepted to graduate school on scholarship, and aced all my classes. I worked in college athletics and flew around the country with a goal of helping teams run around a gym, throwing a leather ball through a circular piece of metal. This all came relatively easy. Even with those apparent successes, I dwell on my failures thus far to hold a lasting relationship, find a wife, and make a larger amount of money compared to others. At times, I find my identity in those things that I have perceived as failures.

But too often we pick one area of our lives where we have failed, and let that shape our entire view of ourselves. For Christians, our identities are found in Christ!  That is the whole theme of Ephesians, and the foundation for Mark Driscoll’s Who Do You Think You Are?, which I just finished reading, and highly recommend.

Yes, it is true that we fail and face affliction. We should be aware that the enemy wants us to attach our identities to our accomplishments and failures, instead of in Christ alone. Let us continue to find identity, not in our struggles or sin, but in Christ’s righteousness.

As we ride our bikes with gloves, elbow and knee pads, lights, and helmets, we’re allowing our motor skills to continually develop, while protecting ourselves from the dangers of riding. In the same way, Paul encourages in Ephesians 6 to “put on the whole armor of God.” We’re equipped with the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith and sword of the Spirit. In this light, knowing that In Christ we are equipped, Paul tells us to keep persevering. Sort of like learning how to ride a bike.