The last two years have been the hardest years of my life.
I’ve lost a parent to cancer, an unborn child due to miscarriage, a job in church that I thought I was going to do till the day I needed to retire and possibly a marriage. All during a global pandemic.
I’ve gotten to know clinical depression, debilitating anxiety, insomnia and gastric reflux as constant companions. Most days, all I hope for is to make it through the day.
Some days, I don’t even hope for that. I don’t want to make it through the day. I don’t want tomorrow to come.
There are a few things that have kept me going. My young daughter. The encouragement of friends. Maybe my faith.
To live is Christ, to die is gain, right? Like Paul, I feel torn between wanting to live and wanting to see Jesus face to face.
And then there’s my bike.
It’s a road bike that my best friend left behind when he migrated to Australia. Full carbon, with electronic gear shifting. It’s the kind of bike I always wished I had.
I started to ride it late at night, when it felt like the rest of the world was asleep. When I couldn’t fall asleep.
Even as I struggled to maintain a decent pace thanks to months of inactivity, the empty roads offered the promise of clearing my mind as my world narrowed down to just my bike and my thoughts.
And one thought kept coming to mind: When you cycle, you have no choice but to move forward.
I’m not sure where I first heard this quote. What I am sure of, is that it’s true.
During one of my rides, I made friends with this uncle as we both stopped at a red light, and we ended up riding together the rest of the night.
He told me that he recently got back into cycling after a 20-year hiatus. I found out that he started cycling again because his wife passed away last year after battling cancer. Cycling helped him to cope. It gave him something to do.
I replied: “When you cycle, you have no choice but to move forward, right?”
We gave each other a knowing look. We knew it was true. Cycling is an activity that demands forward momentum.
You can’t pedal backwards, and you’ll fall to the side if you stop altogether. Thanks to inertia and the gyroscopic effect produced by the wheels, a bike is more stable the faster it goes.
You have no choice but to move forward. The bike itself encourages you to do so.
I suspect another reason why so many are picking up cycling these days is the feeling of forward momentum.
Since the pandemic started, cycling has seen a renaissance of sorts around the world.
With all the restrictions and risks associated with indoor gatherings and even team sports, cycling has emerged as a low-risk activity that lets you get a workout and fresh air at the same time.
With lesser cars on the roads thanks to mandated WFH arrangements, road cyclists have less traffic to contend with as well.
But I suspect another reason why so many are picking up cycling these days is the feeling of forward momentum amid a pandemic with no end in sight.
If there’s a passage in the Bible that encapsulates this never-ending merry-go-round of restrictions, new COVID variants and general drudgery, it’s Ecclesiastes 1.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher in verse 2.
“All things are wearisome, more than one can say… What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun,” he laments in verses 8-9.
And so, with every turn of the pedal, with every kilometre conquered, what we cyclists are really doing is nothing less than taking a stand against the cycle of madness that COVID-19 has wrought upon the world.
Even as cycling takes me away from the daily grind, I know I can’t cycle my problems away.
With every heartbeat, with every bead of sweat, we say: “You’ve taken away so many things we used to take for granted. But you can’t take this away from us!”
Or at least that’s what I tell myself. It’s nice to claim whatever agency I feel I have left in the midst of losing so much.
Losing freedoms, losing hopes, losing dreams, losing the ones I love. Reality really isn’t a place I feel like inhabiting most of the time these days anyways.
But even as cycling takes me away from the daily grind, I know I can’t cycle my problems away. No matter how fast I go, I’ll never be able to outrun the things I need to eventually confront.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” Jesus’ words in Luke 22:42 come to mind as I write this. I think I’ve prayed a version of these words too often the past year.
To be honest, I find it hard to pray this second part. “…yet not my will, but yours be done.” Or at least pray it with the fullness of conviction that I know Jesus had.
But I’m forever grateful that He did.
That Jesus chose to move forward, bearing His cross. That He endured suffering, so that all who believe in Him will not perish forever but have eternal life.
I know that someday, I’ll meet my mum and my unborn child in heaven. But in the meantime, I am reminded of the words of a familiar song:
Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know, I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because he lives
One more thing that cycling is teaching is me is that I don’t need to move forward on my own.
There’s this thing in group and competitive cycling called drafting. It’s when one cyclist cycles closely behind another to negate the effects of wind resistance.
At speeds above 15km/h, the main barrier to moving faster is wind resistance. So when you’ve got another cyclist cutting a path through the air in front of you, cycling behind him feels almost effortless. It’s almost like you’re being pulled forward.
One more thing that cycling is teaching is me is that I don’t need to move forward on my own. That Jesus is inviting me to draft behind Him.
I still need to move forward, but Jesus has done the hard work. I just need to follow closely behind Him.
Maybe my depression, anxiety and insomnia won’t go away anytime soon. Maybe they will. But as I imagine Jesus cycling before me, pulling me along, it makes it much easier to keep on keeping on.
The writer has has requested to use a pseudonym for confidentiality.
- Are you going through some kind of suffering? Or is there something that’s weighing you down?
- What encouragement can you draw from the Scriptures and the life of Jesus?
- What steps can you take to move forward in hope?