My daughter is learning to ride her bike, and if you know her history with physical coordination—or lack thereof—you will immediately hit your knees in prayer for us. I’m not even Catholic and it’s crossed my mind to pull out a rosary, just to cover my bases. If anybody’s got candles, just light ‘em for good measure. This poor girl is THAT legendary. She has many strengths, but coordination probably would not be anywhere near that list. Like, maybe not even in the same time zone. I won’t tell you about our 2 ER visits because, frankly, I’m so sick of hearing the story that I don’t want to tell it one more time. Let’s just say that we didn’t let her get within 10 feet of her bike until we got her a helmet, and every time she gets on it, Ben stays within arms reach of her. Maybe she’ll grow out of this clumsy phase and be an amazing athlete someday, but for now we’re playing it safe.
The other night we went for a family walk and let Audrey ride her bike to practice. It ended up being more of a family “stop-and-go” than a continuous walk. I think she, too, feels tentative due to her first bike encounter (one of the aforementioned ER visits), so she pedals a few times, and then hits the brakes. Another problem we’re working on is keeping her eyes on what’s in front of her instead of looking down at her feet, or at the trees, or the flowers, or “oh, look! A squirrel!” Yeah, she’s pretty distract-able. (Come to think of it, I should just start praying now for when she’s 16.) So on one of the occasions that she was fascinated by the scenery instead of where she was going and how fast, she got a little out of control. She barreled straight into a flower bed and began tipping over until Ben barely caught her by the arm at the last second. In an outburst of panic and frustration she blurted out “I don’t think these training wheels are working!!!!”
Apparently, our daughter was under the impression that training wheels are like all-encompassing magic safeguards that keep anything bad from happening to you while on your bike. In her mind it was as if the training wheels were the bumpers you put on a bowling lane to keep your 2 year old from getting a gutter ball-they’re foolproof. As my husband and I realized what was going on in her brain, we fumbled over each other to quickly explain away the misconception. “They’re not going to keep you from running off the road!” “They can’t stop you from hitting things!” “You still have to watch where you’re going!” “You still have to steer!” “You still have to use your brakes!” All that was a little overwhelming for her, so we just encouraged her to try again, and reassured her that with practice she’d get the hang of it (we hope).
I realized today that I sometimes view God as my “magic training wheels.” I want him to instantly make me a perfectly smooth, skilled biker who balances gracefully, never makes mistakes, and all with no real effort on my part. I don’t want to have to steer, pedal, learn the feel of my handlebars or brakes, or keep my eyes on the road. I just want my magic training wheels to take me to my destination safely.
I want God to fix my brokenness, make me like him, and do that pretty much in a magical instant. I want to magically exhibit the love, joy, peace, patience, etc. of Jesus, without the hard choices that get me there. You see, part of the good news of Jesus is that when we come to him with nothing, and give him our lives, he gives us himself. That’s why the image of baptism is so powerful and important: the person I used to be dies with Christ, is buried, and I am raised to life by God’s resurrection power, and the life I now live is in Christ.
“…This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
-2 Corinthians 5:17
“For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.”
I am a new creation in Christ—that is absolutely true. I am united with Christ and Christ lives in me. But that doesn’t mean I’m perfect yet. It means the Holy Spirit resides in me, and it means God is working in me—shaping and changing me into his image more and more. But that’s the key: more and more. It’s a process. And I’m a part of that process. I can make choices that submit to that holy work in me, or hinder the process. I must choose every day to seek God, to listen to God’s voice, to notice his presence, and to obey. I must choose every day to love God with everything I have and to love everyone else—my neighbor as well as my enemy.
You see, just like the scriptures above, this is equally as true:
“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Paul even talks about a thorn in his flesh, presumably a stumbling block, a weakness, that he asked God to take away. Much to my chagrin, God didn’t. Instead, he says…
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
I don’t know why God chooses to work this way—in a long, slow process that actually involves me, instead of an instantaneous “personality transplant”. But even when it’s hard, I think it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful that all of these things are true. All of these things are true. We are changed. We are being changed. God works miracles in us, and we also participate in that change. It’s both.
So I’m choosing to look for the miraculous work of God inside me. And I’m doing the hard work of making the daily choices to cooperate with his miracles. God, shape me. God, help me to submit to the shaping.