When I was four the little boy next door got a brand new red bike, just the right size for a short person to ride comfortably. I watched as he rode it, his father steadying it while he felt his balance and tried to do it himself. Over and over they got themselves set at the head of the street and tried again. I watched, because I didn’t have a bike and my father was elsewhere. I noted how he leaned, how he sat and how he held the handlebars, and I listened to everything his father said, recording it in my mind. I had no particular hope that I would get to ride a bike that day, but I knew someday I would, and I wanted to be ready.
I don’t remember if the neighbor boy was successful that day before he or his father grew tired and went to do other things. I remember that he looked at me, sitting in the yard with my knees drawn up to my chest watching, and off-handedly asked if I wanted to try it. Perhaps as he was walking away I screwed up my courage and asked him if I could ride it. Either way, he let me ride his brand new bike. I cannot describe the exhilaration that coursed through my young, excited body – an opportunity unparalleled in the life of a small child to do the most exciting thing imaginable. I jumped at the chance.
There was nobody to steady me, so I sat on the bike and felt the seat and the handlebars. I leaned one way with one foot on the pedal, the other testing leaving the ground for the other pedal. I leaned the other way. I pushed the bike forward slowly a few yards, hopping my feet from the ground to the pedal and back again, trying my ability to push on the pedal and keep my balance because I knew that was how it all worked.
It seemed only a few minutes – I’ve since forgotten, if I was ever aware of how long it took – but soon I was riding all over the street, the wind coursing through my hair and joy coursing through my body. It was everything I had always imagined. It was the purest, most exciting thing I had ever done. And I did it. I ran into the house and told my mother with every ounce of satisfaction a child of four can contain that I had just ridden a bike all by myself. She was as glad for me as I had hoped.
One could assume that my parents were absent or uninterested. Undoubtedly, if they were to read this they would sigh and slump and the wistful tears that flow so easily from parents with grown children would flow unchecked. They were always there for me, but they could not be everywhere. They could not give me every opportunity, and that is part of the plan too.
I own that moment alone and it has always been good for me to have that in my back pocket. Like Peter, who saw the possibility of standing on the waves and eagerly asked if he could try, and succeeded, he always owns the moment he walked on water.
Somewhere between hope and faith, between the feeling that inspires one to try something and the assurance that one will succeed, is a choice.
It’s a choice made alone if it’s to ever be one’s own. It’s Moses falling in exhaustion after seeing the face of God, then knowing the bitterness of hell and summoning within himself the ability to say to The Adversary, “Who art thou? I am a son of God.” It’s Elijah, exhausted and alone in the desert asking God to take him because he has done all he can, but summoning the choice to hear the voice from the whirlwind. It’s Sarah, receiving strength to herself to conceive a child after her time and her life of disappointment, because she chooses to believe the angel’s promise.
The help we don’t get, the quiet moment when God withdraws and we cry out to heaven after the retreating of God’s own assuring presence, that lonely silence makes possible the moment of our real choice. And these are the choices we always own. These are the moments that make us who we are in tangible ways. Had God or angels, heavenly or otherwise, swooped down to save us, patted us on the back and told us that we could do this without ever allowing the silence to come, provided the means for us and steadied our little red bike – we would not fully own the choice. The Job Moment is a crucial mortal experience for us all.
There is a time and a place to encourage one another. I’m a big fan of praise and love and charity, and quite a lot of it, really. I’ve recently discovered principles of joy and balance previously unknown because I saw someone receive help – an offer of a little red bike – and he took it with joy and gratitude, and inspired me to ask for help in my own life and to be changed because of it.
But I also know the loneliness of dark moments and what happens within them, and how, when the little red bike comes, we can ride because of what we decided in the dark. What we overcome there is profound, metal forged within our souls that is unshakable, unchangeable, unremovable. If your life is dark and lonely right now and all about you rages that you cannot, what you decide here will always be yours. It is good to have a moment of utter aloneness with ourselves, to say to all the forces of doubt and disbelief, “I am a child of God. Who are you?” And then to walk on water with the curtains of heaven thrown wide as God smiles his approval.
Do it. Decide. Choose now and own it forever.
Thanks to my sweet mother, we now have the rest of the story. I had a bike, it just had training wheels, and I didn’t ride as confidently with training wheels. My little friend was the first to get his training wheels off, and I got to ride his bike after he was done. After my experience doing so, mine came off pretty soon too! It’s so good to have people who can clarify our memory!