Monday, April 8, 2013

Take off the Training Wheels!

So after my last misadventure with road cycling, I got a bit reflective. For me, wearing cycling shoes with clipless pedals is like taking the training wheels off your bike all over again. For a road cyclist, this is a necessary transition to allow them to ride faster, more efficiently, and also look like they belong to the sport. It's part of a growing process.

But pretty much anyone that made this transition can tell you funny stories about their first falls. Some even put their friends' experiences on YouTube for the world to laugh at. What makes them funny is that each situation looks easily avoidable. It's not like they're accomplishing much when they fall.

Now let's get metaphorical.  Taking off training wheels isn't easy. It's risky. But it's a necessary process to be mature in cycling. Kids can't stay on training wheels forever. In many areas of life, we have our training wheels. It's no different for Christians. Let's look at a few examples of training wheels in the Christian life.

Sunday school. Churches teach children at young ages important things about the Bible through programs like Sunday school: stories like Noah, Moses, or Jesus, and do a pretty good job of explaining the importance of things like Easter. Young Christians are taught how to steer and ride their way through early life by listening to the teaching of their elders. But the things you learn in Sunday school are not enough to get you through any obstacle. The purpose is to provide young Christians with a basic understanding of the Bible and what it means to be a Christian -- and most importantly, to point them to the scriptures to learn for themselves. Teachings similar to these will only get you so far in life - and certainly not through the hardest parts.

Clichés. Did God "place something on your heart" to say or do recently? Are you going through some hard times? Didn't you know that "God will never give you more than you can handle?" And that "Everything happens for a reason." Some people like to call things like these "Christianese." It's like another language. If you "aren't saved", then you're probably confused by some of this. Clichés are memorable. But they also lose their meaning from overuse (read also "over abuse"). Sometimes they are offered to people in need at exactly the wrong time. For example, if someone experiences death in their family or another terrible life-changing situation, simply saying that everything happens for a reason is enough to make someone walk away from God forever. Are you prepared to offer a theodicy that will ease their suffering? And are you ready to clean up the mess when it fails to ease their pain?

Other times the clichés you've come to know and love are completely wrong. Did Jesus or his disciples really say that money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10)? Or does Paul, Peter, and the other apostles really teach that God will never give you more hardships than you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13)? The reality in the Bible is that people suffer often. They are often placed in circumstances that would be impossible for them to overcome -- without God stepping in himself to fix things. Not only that, simply saying that someone can bear with their sufferings robs them of their grieving process and their plea for help.

Do you really want to tackle these kinds of mountains with training wheels on?

Cliques. One of the best encouragements as a Christian is to have a family. Not just a blood-related family, but an entire community that can support you. This is both biblical and true by experience. You can have meaningful communities that can challenge you to work beyond Sunday school teachings and cliché remarks. This can be the next step in training, if we want to keep the cycling analogy. This is like riding with others: sometimes with training wheels, and other times you're just training with the pros. This reminds me of my experience at Houghton College. I grew in faith and experience there, but also I have to wonder: what were the challenges I had to overcome in my Christian bubble, compared with the struggles going on in the real world? Am I really in touch with everyone else out there when I'm in my Christian cliques?

Training in Christian cliques is like training on the same course over and over again. Sure, you get good experience -- and you even start learning when to anticipate that sharp turn or that difficult road you're heading on. And likewise, you know how to deal with those situations. But following the same course over and over again is...boring. The purpose of training is not to be perfect on a single course, but rather, to take the training off the well-known paths and into the unknown. Training is meant to prepare you for unexpected roads and intense situations. Training is supposed to teach you how to respond to those situations. While I could stay in that clique and go through life in security, I wasn't meant to do that. Some of the most exciting and challenging experiences are when we're outside of our cliques and doing things that no one would expect us to do. For example, leaving everything and moving to Europe.

That being said, training wheels aren't a bad thing. Training through elders, learning encouraging (and true) words and proverbs, and spending time in Christian communities is certainly not a waste of time. But keep in mind that these things aren't meant to be everything we live for. If it is, we'll find our Christian lives unfulfilling. We're meant to take off the training wheels and experience things beyond our areas of control. It's challenging, but it's exciting. Training wheels can't take that kind of stress -- they were never meant to in the first place. And without them, we'll fall sometimes and we'll get beat up a bit, but that's part of the process of building character. Nobody looks up to a cyclist that wears training wheels; nor would they look up to a Christian who's afraid to shed unnecessary layers of security.

1 comment:

Mark S. said...

Good stuff Nick. A dear friend of mine lost a good friend of hers recently to a drink driver who crashed into her vehicle late Saturday night. There is nothing I can say to make it easier for her or to bring comfort than to let her know she is loved, I am praying for her and her family. Jesus didn't ask his friends to bear the cross our take the cup away. He just asked them to stay awake with him. God puts us here among one another to stay awake while in those times of trial.