It was 27 degrees and snowing. My butt was numb and my pinky finger had fallen off. Okay, my pinky finger hadn’t fallen off. It was just cold. And it hurt.
But more than my finger, my pride really hurt. I was getting my lunch handed to me on a trail I had ridden for years—by a guy fifteen years older than me. Getting smacked-down like I was a mere child on the mountain bike is not a good feeling. Especially when your pinky finger is frozen to your brake.
Years ago I began mountain biking because it was hard. In the first two years I seldom returned home without bleeding cuts, painful bruises or feeling just plain beaten. No, I’m not a masochist, but there is something alluring about sitting on a steel two-wheeled “horse” and riding up mountains, hopping over boulders, bombing down technical descents and climbing log bridges. It’s not a man-thing as much as it a human-thing (debatable, yes).
We all have that one thing that makes us feel like, “This is how it should be.” And that feeling, come to find out, is from God. It’s knitting, singing or woodworking. It’s statistical engineering, fly-fishing or design. It’s living. And in the living is where we, as individuals and all humanity, fall deeper and deeper into God’s purpose. Our uniquely created quirks—loves, hobbies, vocations—are our glory offerings. They are the “created for” part of our being.
But there is a “created with” aspect as well—with God and with each other. Mountain biking is only an experience—an interesting passing of time. What is it about being pulverized by a 52 year-old ironman that makes me feel human (besides the blood)?
It’s him—the ironman.
He’s got this extra-large high-end full suspension bike frame with a mud fender over the back and front tires. Who uses those? He’s wearing a pair of 1987 long-legged tights with spandex riding shorts over them. He’s sporting this brand new helmet from Star Trek or something and he’s at least six foot five. And that’s all legs, trust me.
As I’m eating his dust I’m relating to him. I’m wondering: how and when he started riding, what he does for a living and if he’s ever going to slow up.
The ride was a great experience but the bike and the mountain and the trees can only do so much. There are two things that make the experience transcendent: God and man.
My ironman buddy added the relational element. We chatted, huffed and puffed, and talked about—of all things—church. It’s our relational qualities that separate us from a tree or a bike or a Droid.
My previous post was about an iPhone stealing away someone’s attention from a conversation I was trying to start. But my friend Brent says that it’s not just the technology’s fault. We, many times, are socially awkward people. We are rude and self-centered. Technology exaggerates this.
But it also gives us an excuse not to relate to one another at all. We become isolated gnomes, commenting on each other’s statuses but not really knowing or touching or loving anyone.
The point is we are intensely relational beings. And the more we allow our lives to be infiltrated by the unfettered use and love of things like phones and computers and really any “thing” that boasts humanity’s progress, the more we diminish what makes us uniquely human.
My former pastor used to say, “Love people, use things.” We need to be savagely selfish with our relationships. That is to say, we should protect them from the invasion of things. We need to turn off our phones during in-person conversations. We need to get off Facebook while sitting next to our spouse. We need to realize and seize the opportunities to be in relation to each other. In the end, we are the only ones to blame if our relationships become boorish and uninteresting.
Maybe we should all be getting our butts kicked on a trail. Maybe we need to do anything that reminds us that we are human and can bleed. Maybe we need to be a little extreme and turn our phones off at 5 p.m. (whoa!).
My two-year-old daughter loves to come into my office and grab my hand. She says, ‘C’mere daddy,” and leads me out to the back deck. “Run daddy! Run.” She then runs back and forth in the yard for no other purpose but exhaustion. Then she falls in the grass. But when I’m with her it’s especially fun. There’s something magical about falling in the wintry dead grass with your two-year-old that says, “Yea, this is how it’s supposed to be!”
Toss your phone for one day. Do your work in a journal—keep the laptop shut. Life is about being, one to another. And we can all be … God, help us.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.