still just a boy on a bike.
It struck me the other day that while we are all complex beings with diverse experiences, in Scripture it often seems you can sum a person up fundamentally by one scene or experience. Whatever else Abraham was, the moment that God promised to make him the father of many nations dictated the shape and destiny of everything else about his life. From slaying Goliath to presiding at King, it was David’s identity as God-obssessed shepherd in the field that pretty much established what we know him to become (and more importantly who he actually was). So when Abraham was noble or cowardly, his identity as the father too many nations is the ground floor, the lens through which we interpret everything about his life. When David was faithful and when unfaithful, we still see him through the lens of his experience as a boy because it’s what defined him. Moses was comparatively defined by the burning bush.
My life is not nearly so epic, but in these terms I have finally found out who I am: I’m the boy on the bike. I told the story this weekend at Renovatus about the countless hours I spent in my neighborhood in west Charlotte riding around in circles in the cul-de-sac just up from our house. I wasn’t trying to go anywhere in particular and I didn’t feel stuck. It was where I dreamed and created and told stories (sometimes out loud), and as I understand it now, where I came to know God. After the years of the blue and silver Schwinn bike (one speed with foot brakes) I rode between the ages of 8-12, there would be no other bicycles until I was 31 (thus you can understand how easy it would be to forget who you really are). Those memories had been dormant for a long time until the day my friend Jim Driscoll was praying with me last Fall, and in an intense moment, got this very strong image of me riding around in circles on a bike as a boy. He said God wanted to bring that experience back to me—the creativity, the joy, the fun, the dreaming that was embodied in all of that. I knew it was one of the more powerful, resonant prophetic words I had ever received. It reminded me of who I really was.
But unfortunately, that sweet moment faded the way sweet moments tend to do, all until a few days ago when I was riding around in circles on a bike on Seabrook Island (by necessity, because the condo parking lot was the only place lit enough to really see late at night), caught up in the place where angels and the worship of God run into the part of me that thinks entirely in terms of stories, music and outer space. I remembered Jim’s word, and was overcome with God. It wasn’t about remembering who I was anymore, but being who I am in God again.
I shared that over the weekend, but here is the part I did not share: In recent days, I have had many reasons/occasions to ponder the fragility of my life, the fragility of all our lives. It is indeed difficult to keep the childish, delightfully naïeve faith, all earnestness and awkardness and pure trust, that I once had as the boy on the bike. How does one maintain that essential identity, the beloved child of Abba riding his bike in circles—with so many dangers and distractions all around?
I honestly felt like the Lord reminded me of another pivotal story of life aboard the silver and blue Schwinn. In the second grade, when we lived in Kannapolis, NC where my Dad was a pastor at the time, there was a large open lot on a hill beside our house. I rode my bike down that dirt hill almost everyday. There was a bully in the neighborhood, an older boy named Gus, who used to come around and pick on me. One day he came by and started taunting me while I was riding my bike. “Bet you can’t ride your bike down that hill,” he said. “Of course I can, I do it everyday!” I said. “I don’t believe you. Why don’t you prove it to me?” Not wanting to be shown up on my home turf, I nonchalantly rode my bike to the top of the hill, and took off in a flash down the steep incline. Just before I got to the bottom, my bike and my body struck the thin fishing wire Gus had tied between the two large trees on opposite sides of the clearing on the hill. As the wire cut into my skin, I went flying one direction and my bike went flying another. I sailed through the air and hit the ground with a thud, screaming.
Standing just inside our house, my father ran out. First things first, he came to check on me. Given the speed I was going down that hill, there really are no limits to the kind of injury I could have sustained. But besides tearing up the upper half of one leg and wounding my pride, I was not seriously hurt. My Dad proceeded to let Gus have it, and that was the last I saw of him.
Even in my innocence and naivety, knowing what it was to be loved by God and loved by my parents as I passed the days on my bike, it was my first discovery that there are malevolent forces at work in the world that do not respect innocence or pay homage to naivety. It was the first time I ever felt unsafe doing the thing I loved most where I felt at home with God, but it would not be the last. Gus was the first person I can remember bullying me or actively wishing me harm, but he was not the last. That was the first time I ever remember looking at familiar surroundings that had brought comfort, now inclined to check the ground for traps—but it would not be the last.
And yet, what comfort it brings me even now to have the memory of my father, coming to care for me when I was thrown my bike, coming to oppose the bully who tried to hurt me. I was sitting on a plane from Baltimore to Charlotte Saturday, and felt this simple word of revelation and thanksgiving: God, you really have been faithful to the boy on the bike. Still are. I am not ignorant of the fact that there are dangers along the path, some strewn there and some planted there. I am only convinced, perhaps for the first time?–of the trustworthiness of my Father. That I do not have to fear whatever I encounter as I recapture my identity as the boy on the bike, He will be there for me.
Even though I ride through the valley of the shadow of death…