By Sarah Morrison
Staff writer for The Daily Grace Co.
I grew up camping with my family. Every fall during the week of Thanksgiving my parents would load up my sister and I, the dog, and the RV, and we would head 40 minutes away to Lake Livingston. We spent days looking out at the water, climbing trees, and swinging at the park. We watched carefully for the bobs at the end of our fishing line to disappear. We spent nights around a campfire, toasting marshmallows, and looking at the stars.
One such year, I had just learned to ride a bike. Sloughing the training wheels off, I was another step toward adulthood. I thought I was the fastest and loved how daring it was to ride a bike. Lake Livingston had lots of trails, and we would each mount our bicycles and ride together as a family. Even the family dog, Oreo, was leashed to my dad’s bike and ran along with us. It was a family affair.
Lake Livingston was filled with winding trails and rolling hills. The RV park we stayed in had narrow roads, and there were massive ditches lining the streets. At least I remember them being ginormous. They were the perfect size for a newly-training-wheeless child to fall into.
It didn’t take long. We were riding bikes when something happened and I fell over into the deep ditch. I don’t even remember what caused it—a stray rock, a gust of wind, a momentary lapse in balance. It didn’t matter though, I had fallen and I was scorned, vowing not to ride my bike again. I walked my bicycle back to our campsite as I cried.
C.S. Lewis authors many books, one of which is called The Screwtape Letters. In this work of fiction, we are given a peak at what may lie behind the veil of the supernatural in the acts of spiritual warfare from demons toward Christians. While dreamt up largely in Lewis’ imagination, he’s a purveyor of truth, calling his readers to think upon such things with discretion in light of Scripture. One such thing he says in this book is:
“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.”
I read this and I think of myself, young, eager, yet fearful to ride a bike. I think of how desperately I needed my parents nearby; I needed to know they’d catch me if I fell. Their presence didn’t stop me from falling in a ditch once I shed my training wheels, though. I still fell, and I hurt myself. Those facts did not, however, negate the fact that my parents were right by my side the whole time, nor did it illustrate that the didn’t care. They were letting me learn on my own, even for brief moments at a time. Lord knows it would be embarrassing now if I still demanded my parents hold the back of my bicycle seat.
Many of us get caught in cycles, expecting to be “fed” rather than feed ourselves. Expecting to be carried rather than learn to walk. Expecting to ride a bike, but never without training wheels. There’s much that Scripture says about these concepts, but it boils down to this: Our spiritual maturity matters, and it is not infrequent that God removes His hand, not His presence, waiting to see our response.
“Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4
James reminds us that trials are a necessary part of the Christian walk. Without trials, there is only lackluster faith with flimsy endurance. But the Christian life is war; we daily battle against our own flesh and against the enemy. A fragile maturity won’t cut it.
As we go through life, as we suffer, our endurance is grown. We are forced to exercise faith in our daily lives, behaving in a way that suggests the outcome of our hope has already come. As we preach the Gospel to ourselves and as we pursue God amid strife, we are conditioned for endurance, withstanding attacks and blows on all sides by the power of God’s Word within us.
Hebrews 5:1-14 “We have a great deal to say about this, and it is difficult to explain, since you have become too lazy to understand. Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.
The author of Hebrews is feisty in this passage. Admonishing believers, they tell us of the weightiness of growth in our lives. Maturity should always be strived for, knowing that we will never reach completion this side of Heaven. God is always seeking to grow us, but are we always willing to be participants in this? Are we receiving the work that God is doing in us, allowing change and maturity and growth spurts? Growing takes work on our part. It takes humility, and a mind that is actively assessing, praying, and thinking on God.
We can’t live on milk forever. We can’t stay contented in never learning to walk. We can’t keep our training wheels on. God is at work in us to mature and grow us. Will we resist this act of lovingkindness or lean into it?
I did ride a bike again, by the way. I rode it all the time, especially after school. I fell again, too. A lot. Most of the scars I bear are from falling off a bicycle onto uneven concrete. Some wounds I feared would even require stiches. Once while I was alone, I fell and rocks gouged deeply into my flesh. I called for my mom indoors but she couldn’t hear me. I eventually learned how to pick myself up though, running to my mother who would bind up my wounds. I remember how impressed she was with me for making my way indoors with blood streaming from my knees and elbows.
Striving toward maturity often entails plowing through hard things. In muscling through difficulties, it’s not uncommon to feel that God is distant. But He isn’t. Perhaps He’s just giving you time to walk on your own.