Some golf. Some fish. I bike. In the early summer of my life, way back in college, my buddies and I took a yearly bike trip between Springfield, Illinois and Pere Marquette State Park. Those buddies of mine never quite grew up; in fact, they grew more athletic. In the years that I lost touch with them (age 26 through 42), several of them became endurance athletes. Our annual little bike ride morphed into a nearly four hundred mile trek between Des Moines, Iowa and Pere Marquette State Park.
Almost ten years ago, I reconnected with these band of brothers. After numerous invitations, I finally gave in, and decided to relive the glory days. My rusty old Schwinn was beyond repair. With my wife’s encouragement, I purchased an updated bike. The fear of being left in the dust, or suffering cardiac arrest on a rural country road, inspired me to hop on my bike and train throughout the months of May, June and July.
I have learned many lessons riding my two-wheeler across the hills and hollers of the Saint Louis Metropolitan area. Chief among these lessons: Saint Louisans do not like bicycles or their riders. I have learned that when my heinie is perched on the saddle of my road bike, it suddenly transforms into a bull’s eye for those who require a daily purging of their anger.
One memorable incidence occurred on a hot afternoon when I pressed the “walk” signal at one of the busy intersections of our local bike pathway. As his car rolled to a stop, a sleeveless t-shirt wearing, Stag beer-drinking, Joe Peschi must have seen the bull’s eye that was apparently showing up on my rear end. “What are you a little girl, that you have to press the ‘walk’ signal to get across?” Taken aback, I said something little girlish like, “I thought I was supposed to press the “Walk” signal to get across!” I could hear the contrails of his profanity tapering off as I pedaled my bouncing bull’s eye down the path.
And it’s not just Joe Peschi-types. I regularly receive the admonition to “get off the road!” Some just honk and point to the side-walk. Occasionally, exotic hand gestures are utilized, to conserve select vocabulary words for higher life forms in cars, I presume.
In this Sunday’s Gospel passage (Matthew 11: 25-30), Jesus said “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and learn from me, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” This passage, and others like it, suggest that Jesus’ Way for his followers is not exclusively aimed at receiving new life 1/2 of an hour after we’re dead. The peace that Christ tacitly promised in this passage is something we are meant to enjoy in this life. Like other Christian graces, this peace is an unearned gift from God. But receiving this grace requires discipline, focused insight, practice, in short: training.
When I am on a bike ride, and approach a hill, I have developed the discipline of thanking God for that hill. Next, I ask God what this hill was designed to teach me. Over the last couple of years, I have learned that, when it comes to training for a long bike ride, hills are the best coaches.
One way to live out the insight of this Sunday’s passage is to view the angry, and the negative, whom we encounter on the roadways of our lives, as special kinds of spiritual hills. They are placed in our pathway for training purposes. People who are possessed of anger and negativity provide us an opportunity to strengthen our spiritual muscles.
Free-form anger, like all other forms of negativity, is a spiritual virus passed from person to person in an instant. When you encounter someone’s rage, or other forms of negativity, you can find yourself reflexively taking up their yoke of negativity on your own shoulders. And once you are possessed of this kind of burden, there is a way in which you attract others who are carrying a similar burden. People who have taken up a load of negativity will always be glad to add their own contribution to your load.
But this is not the yoke that you were meant to carry. Anyone interested in following The Way for the long haul must learn his or her own unique ways of laying down this kind of burden. For some, taking a deep breath while imagining that they are breathing Christ’s light into their core, followed by exhaling the demon of negativity is a profound way of resisting darkness. For others, a brief one or two word anchoring prayer assists them. For example, “My Light,” or, “Jesus/My Peace.” Some visualize their nemesis wrapped in Christ’s light as they bless him or her. All of these counter-intuitive methods have the effect of immediately restoring us to the path that is easy, and the burden that is light.
Who in your life presents you with the equivalent of an uphill? Can you imagine that they were placed in your pathway for your training? Could you imagine yourself thanking God for them, and asking what it is they were sent here to teach you?