Bike Fail

“Find another way to keep fit,” said the podiatrist in uncharacteristically stern tones. Decades of walking had netted me two very unhappy feet. What to do? I needed time out in God’s nature and, never much good at sitting, had used the rhythm of my steps to focus my prayers.

I rummaged up warm memory from my youth: cycling home from the library with a basketful of books. Eureka! Calling in wifely and motherly chips 2016 Mother’s Day, I requested the gift of a bike. I loved her on sight: old-style frame, cream-colored paint, and stenciling that reminded me of ice cream parlors and The Music Man. I named her Cordelia.

Worry: would I remember how to balance after all these years? A surreptitious ride around the neighborhood allayed those fears: you really do never forget how to ride a bike! But an altogether different problem arose. The slopes that seemed gentle to my walking feet grew Everest-sized when I pedaled them. Breezes that mercifully cooled my walking skin buffeted my biking body with maniacal force. And, it turns out, you use different muscles bi-peding than you do bi-peddling. My quadriceps screamed, “What did we ever do to you?”

I finished the ride on willpower. I was clearly past it. Done for. Failure with a capital F.

But what of Cordelia? She was a gift of love and hope. I couldn’t give up on her. I painted my bike helmet like van Gogh’s Starry Night and, following the advice of the ages, got right back on the, um, bike.

Not great. Not disastrous.

Today I can ride longer before my legs turn into overcooked noodles. I can manage inclines with a bit more panache.  It’s not as easy as I’d like, but it’s worth the effort. Plus, I learned that failure, while harsh, has benefits. I learned

  1. Failure doesn’t kill us. Even though at the time our mortification might wish it did. In surviving failure, in a larger sense, we win.
  2. Failure defines our values. Sometimes we give something a go and failure tells us, in no uncertain terms, “Nope. Not for me.” Other times, when we face a challenge that’s hard, but somehow energizing (what I call God energy), failure spurs us on. We test unused muscles and set our determined chins.
  3. Failure fosters humor. We grow in self-acceptance when we can laugh at our humanness. Not in a derisive way, but in a way that says: “Yep. That’s me. Warts and all. Gotta love me.”
  4. Failure cultivates community. We all fail. Sharing that honestly helps us discover—and share—the refreshing truth that failure doesn’t define us.

Sure, it’s frustrating to re-tackle with determination (and Ben Gay) a skill I once mastered with nary a thought. But it’s frustration with benefits. I feel a kind of wondering joy as I wheel Cordelia out of the garage and slap on my helmet. There are adventures out there just waiting for me. I intend to pedal out and find them.

Soul Muscle

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
“She not about to change now.”

Such remarks assume that our souls wear down alongside our physical selves: that the uniqueness that is you and me develops age spots, wrinkles, and osteoporosis. I can see where folks get that idea; with aging, some people close in on themselves, growing brittle and bitter. But it need not be so. Indeed, with the children grown and a level of vocational competence achieved, we gain the freedom to tone our souls.

No matter what age we are, we’re just getting started—there’s much more to each of us than this suit of skin can contain.

Below are some fitness options for a good “soul workout.”

1. Be available to different opinions: read a book that professes an opposing worldview, or hang out with folks from that “other party.”

2. Tone our brains: take on a subject that’s always been a challenge, be it an online philosophy course (iTunes U offers some great courses) or a workbook on mathematics. Thanks to Rosetta Stone, I’m having moderate success learning Spanish.

3. Create: whether we tend a garden, write a poem, or decorate our workspace, creative process supplies restorative oxygen to our souls.

4. Serve: walking in another’s shoes and tending to another’s needs, keeps our souls & soles supple.

5. Practice prayer: Connecting with God our morning and evening pillow, as we work, on the highway (eyes open, please!) supplies needed electrolytes to our wearied soul muscles.

Whether we’ve eight or eighty, our souls are an infinitely renewable resource. Given regular exercise, they’ll grow heartier and more limber with age. What are your practices for toning soul muscle? I’d love to read them!