A few years ago on a very hot, sunny day I was out riding my bicycle in the Texas hill country. It was a pretty ride and enjoyable for the most part; there were only a few long, slow hills, little traffic and lots of changing landscape to keep it interesting. I had ridden from town to country, along a creek and beside pastures of hay and wildflowers, and had just rounded a corner marking the half-way point in the ride. Wide open fields were all that lay in front of me as I pushed up a slight incline.
Then I remembered what was coming up: a long fast drop to a low water crossing with an equally steep ascent back out. Mentally I sighed and grumbled to myself about how hard it was to push back up from the draw. I don’t ride fast and couldn’t count on my momentum to bring me very far up from the bottom. My legs and lungs would do all the work of pulling against gravity – and every time I rode, it was harder than expected.
It felt like this perfect ride was about to be ruined by the work of coming out of that low-water crossing. Most low-water crossings were not that difficult. Most were simply a slight change of pace. This one completely changed the ride. The pleasure of pedaling would be exchanged for the burn of muscles pushing hard to take me back up to level ground again, my breath would come fast and quick, and sweat would slide into the corners of my eyes. My attitude had moved from contentment to complaint in those few moments since remembering what was ahead.
My angel of understanding must have been riding with me, because out of nowhere a question came to mind:
“How can you become stronger without challenges?”
Without the burn, sweat, and shortness of breath, my ride wouldn’t challenge me. It would simply be an easy way to spend some time exercising, and here’s the irony: I chose riding to become stronger and fit, not to coast through fields of flowers. Although I like the ease of a long down hill ride with the chance to look around and relax a moment, the ride needs some physical challenge to be satisfying. Coming up shortly was a piece of variance that would help me build the strength and endurance I needed – and it would take less than a minute to finish.
Suddenly I reversed attitudes once again. Now I wanted to feel my muscles burn, my breath to come ragged, and sweat to drench me. I wanted to grow stronger, celebrating in the future as the coming obstacle became easier and easier, reveling as I looked for my next challenge.
I decided to embrace the burn and use it to allow easy stretches of the ride to feel sweeter. Then the drop appeared and down into it I went as fast as I could, switching to lower gears on the rise and pushing into the pedals steadily until back on level ground, a smile breaking through with my determination to make the most of it.
The ride became a metaphor for life as I realized that to really benefit from the ride we cannot avoid the hard parts, but must ride through those stretches, building strength and pressing forward until we are back on an easier path. That day, I decided to embrace all of the ride and in doing so embraced more of life along the way.