Keep Pedaling

No one taught me how to ride a bike. I learned it on my own. At least that’s what my mother said. One day I just came cruising down the lane on a neighbor’s Huffy Thunder Road, sitting high in the saddle as if that bike had been made with me in mind. As if I’d been riding one all my life.

I’m one of those who learns by doing. If I’m not drawn to something by my own curiosity then chances are good I ain’t learning what it means or how to do it. The classroom environment was always a struggle.

“Young Matthew is not living up to his potential,” was a common report at school. “He can be a distraction to his classmates.”

Guilty as charged. Distracting classmates was more fun than conjugating en Español, and I sure put my back into it.

The things I enjoyed at school were the things I could do well, and the things I could do well were the things I enjoyed. Apologies to my former classmates on young Matthew’s behalf. I’m sorry for the distractions. I hope they didn’t contribute to your academic delinquency.

Luckily adults encouraged me to pursue the things I did well. Success gave me confidence and the will to keep plugging. But the easy road can only take you so far. Everybody hits a rough patch eventually.

Mine came in my mid-20s. Things that once came easy didn’t anymore. The things I did well lost their spark. I fell off my bike a few times. I became a distraction to myself.

The only way out was to try some of the harder things I’d been avoiding, the things I couldn’t do well. Eventually I got the picture. Everything worth doing is hard.

Faith didn’t come easy. It took years before it became something I could do well and therefore something I enjoyed. Dorothy Day apparently called faith “an act of will.” It takes a little work. Maybe more than a little.

Nonbelievers often say they wish they had faith in God. They think Christians have it easy. They imagine we gloss over the tough questions, outsourcing every hard answer to the Bible or putting blind trust in our priests and religious brothers and sisters.

Our faith and our scripture, they suppose, allows us to explain away every bad or confusing thing that happens as God’s will. This, in turn, relieves us of having to think too hard about what we believe or why we believe it.

Faith is bliss. Ignorance is bliss. Ergo . . .

If only. You don’t “get” faith then turn your brain off and go through life smiling as you dream of Heaven’s rewards. Ask the Apostle Thomas. Even Saint Teresa of Calcutta was tempted to doubt.

“Who among us—everybody, everybody!—who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts on their journey of faith?” Pope Francis has said. “We’ve all experienced this, me too. It is part of the journey of faith, it is part of our lives. This should not surprise us, because we are human beings, marked by fragility and limitations. We are all weak, we all have limits: do not panic. We all have them.”

Some things you can be taught. Some you learn by doing. You’re going to fall off the bike. Do not panic.

And when it all comes together, check yourself out—sitting as high in the saddle as I did on that Huffy Thunder Road. As if you’ve been doing it all your life.

From the March 2018 issue Fairfield County Catholic


Photo by Luca Violetto
%d bloggers like this: