We had never been in this part of the country before but we consulted our pretty little map and planned out our bike route. We knew where to turn, how long to ride, where to stop for water. But we didn’t know about the hills. Big hills.
It was a cool and sunny morning—perfect cycling weather. We happily set out. I was humming the Wicked Witch of the West theme song which I like to hum while cycling. Perfect happiness!
And then, well, then my allegro humming turned to adagio and then largo. Hills! I didn’t know there would be hills. Instead of humming I soon began cursing, sounding like the Wicked Witch herself.
We stopped after an hour to drink water, eat a snack and rest. I used this time to complain.
Wes just nodded and said, “We couldn’t tell from the map it would be so hilly.”
I ranted a little longer about how hard it was and how much I hated the hills and how maybe I wouldn’t have come if I’d know there would be so many hills.
He took another swig from his water bottle and then said, “I just consider the hills part of the workout.”
Part of the workout? What a concept!
There are just a few times in life where someone says something that instantly and totally changes your perspective. This was one of those times.
Part of the workout: like struggling to lift a heavier weight to build strength, like doing sprints to build speed, like pushing yourself to run one more mile to build stamina.
We hopped back on our bikes and the hills seemed totally different to me. They were there to help me build strength and endurance! What did the downhill do for me except cool my armpits?
Later I thought about how it’s pretty much the same in life. We try to map out our lives and often we can see where the hills are going to be. But most often we can’t: accidents, illness, choices other people make which affect us.
Perhaps we can see these things as simply “part of the workout.” It doesn’t erase the difficulty or the pain or the struggle but it is to be expected. I think this is what Jesus was getting at in John 16:33, “I have told you these things so that you will be whole and at peace. In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble, but you need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order.”
Wait. Times of trouble? Sorry disciples, it will not be a flat ride. Hills! It’s all part of the workout.
I have to remind myself in this time of racial unrest, of global pandemic and political insanity that: “It’s all part of the workout.” Seriously. To be expected.
There are things I read and hear in news that make me stand with my good friend Job when he says,
“Please, God, I have two requests;
grant them so I’ll know I count with you:
First, lay off the afflictions;
the terror is too much for me.
Second, address me directly so I can answer you,
or let me speak and then you answer me.
(Job 14:20-22 The Message)
“Lay off the afflictions!” Have you ever said that to God? Yes, yes, times of trouble, ride up the hill, it’s part of the workout but ENOUGH ALREADY! The terror is too much for us.
I think perhaps Jesus was going back and forth between these thoughts as he carried his cross. As much as I want to lead the cheer, “Part of the workout!” I can’t do it without also shouting “Enough already!”
This is where we find the heartbeat of our faith: in the contradictions, in the paradox, in the fact that we can find joy in our struggles and at the same time know that we can say—and mean—Lay off the afflictions!
We can’t forget that last part of what Jesus said, “You need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order.”
Frankly, I’m still working out exactly what this means. I equate Jesus with fierce love and to me love trumps hate—if you get my drift. Perhaps we can find a triumph every day when we choose hope over despair and love over hate.
That will be enough for me.