While reading for an upcoming speech I have to give, I ran across a great quotation and some helpful reflection. Although it was not inherently a spiritual message, it struck me that implicitly it was spiritual. The one-liner comes from the well-known Peanut cartoonist, Charles Schulz. He said, “Life is a ten-speed bike. Most of us have gears we never use.”
Obviously Schulz is using an analogy here. Life is more complex than a bicycle. But if we understand something about the bike, then we can gain some insight to life. This is a time-honored way of approaching not only life, but also spirituality. Use what you know to learn about what you may know less about. Of course, most of us have ridden bicycles in our lifetime. And you have to be pretty old to remember bikes that only had one gear! Since I can recall those kinds of bikes, that is one more sign that age is creeping up on me.
At some point, the bike that only had one speed evolved to the 3-speed bicycles. I do remember this very well. At the time, they seemed like a stunning invention. Just imagine, we speculated, how much riding would get easier if you could shift the bike into a lower gear as you climbed a hill. It was advancement over the one-speed bike. It complicated the riding process, but it enhanced the process in the same vein.
And then more gears started appearing on bicycles. There were ten-speeds and fourteen gears. Then it even evolved into the bikes with more than twenty gears. Riding these kinds of bikes became something the casual biker did not really know how to do. As I think about it, our lives may evolve in similar fashion.
Some of us are more like 3-speed bikes. We are fairly simple. We do have flexibility; we can do the “hills of life” easier than earlier folks. But life is still simple. Of course, as our world and life itself get more complicated, it is nice to have more gears to cope with the complexity. Let’s imagine the complexities of life to be like the hills one faces in an extended bike ride. Bike rides and life are not usually totally flat and without obstacles. The “gears” give us more capacity to cope and even excel when we face these obstacles and hills. This is where the Schulz quotation began to take me.
I do think it is true that most of us have gears we have not used. John Maxwell, who writes about leadership, asks a good question. “What are we saving those gears for?” Let’s assume that we have some significant God-given talent. And when we combine that with some dedicated education and a good dose of life experience, we are equipped with several “gears” on our life-bikes. One trouble is not thinking we actually have these “gears,” when in fact we do have them. Another problem is not caring or being too lazy to use all our “gears” to get the most out of life.
Maybe we have settled for too little in our life. I’m afraid there is much in our current American culture that simply counsels people to “do your own thing.” We are extolled to do whatever we want---if we can. This is basically culturally approved egotism! On the contrary, I would argue that one facet of our life on earth is to get where God wants us to go. We are to ride our “life-bikes” into the Divine sunset! Along the way we are to do good, to work for justice, to love the unlovable, etc. That hardly sounds like egotism. I think God wants us to care as much about our neighbor as our self!
Life, like riding a bike, takes effort. In fact, Maxwell tells us, “It’s not good to travel through life without breaking a sweat.” I agree. I like one more point Maxwell makes. He tells us to beware of the problems of “self-imposed limitations. They limit us as much a real ones.” It makes me pause and ask whether I have self-imposed limitations? If so, what are they? Self-imposed limitations would be like having gears on my “life-bike” that I will never use. They limit my capacity to do the good and to be compassionate in significant ways.
Maxwell puts it succinctly when he acknowledges, “Life is difficult enough as it is. We make it more difficult when we impose additional limitations on ourselves.” God has given us abilities and gifts. We have talent to make a big difference in the world. In fact, our job is to help God bring the Kingdom. That’s our “life’s ride.” So let’s not limit ourselves.
I want to ponder those places and occasions where I limit myself. I do think my life is a ten-speed bike. I fear I am riding while I only use four or five of my gears. I am moving through life, but I could be doing much more. I know I can’t ride as aggressively as when I was young, but I can “ride” more wisely and with experience. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of shifting into another gear!