Pretty much as far back as I can remember, I’ve kept a journal.
I think most athletes have quirky superstitions and habits—they don’t change their socks (or worse, their underwear—I’ve heard it!) as long as they’re on a winning streak, they have a lucky number, they only or always or never eat a particular food on game day, etc. Writers aren’t that different. Personally, I’m a little quirky and ritualistic about my journals.
I choose each new journal intentionally, looking for one whose cover is somehow symbolic of what is going on in my life, or more often, what I want to see in my life. Then, I write exactly one page of introduction (the page length dictated by the journal itself). I don’t know why I do this—the page limit. I guess it’s the only time I actually set boundaries for my writing. Maybe I enjoy the challenge, maybe it’s just practical. I guess it’s both. A one-page introduction that states why I chose that particular journal, and what I hope God will do in my life as I write in it.
Then, at the end of the journal, I usually (though not quite so ritualistically) close out with a page long (give or take) reflection. Did my life change and grow in the ways I had hoped when I started the journal? Why or why not?
The truth is, I almost never feel that I accomplished what I hoped for in that first page introduction. In fact, to be honest, I can’t actually think of a single success story. It hasn’t stopped me from going through the motions, doing my little ritual, though.
I grabbed a cheap little journal from Walgreens to start the New Year this year. “Enjoy the Ride!” it said, just above the image of a cute little retro-ish bicycle that reminds me a bit of my own. Enjoy the ride. You wouldn’t think I would need a daily reminder to do that, but I do. I tend to be serious. Laughter doesn’t come easily for me. I admire those carefree souls who can laugh at themselves and roll with the punches. I’m just not one of them.
So I bought this journal, hoping it would remind me to enjoy life as it happens, hoping it would challenge me to be intentional about making time for pleasure and beauty… intentional about choosing joy. I started out well. I made time every night to list a few things I was thankful for that day. Did you know they’ve done studies, that if you go to bed thinking about the good things that happened (vs. rehearsing all that went wrong), you wake up more positive and optimistic, remembering the good that happened the day before and expecting more of the same in the day to come? It was simple enough to try, and it seemed to be working for me just as they said it would.
Our church started the year with 21 days of prayer and fasting, so along with choosing to be grateful, I was really excited about what might come out of those 21 days of prayer and fasting. I was excited about cleansing my system, about dedicated corporate prayer, about a fresh start in so many ways. I was excited about change in my life. So I worked hard, made changes, kept at it… and in the end, nothing really changed. Then I got discouraged. I mean, if I saw major results at the end of those 21 days, I’d have been encouraged to do another 21-day challenge/blitz. But I didn’t.
I remember writing in my journal about this time the verse, “do not become weary in doing good”… Ugh. I was weary, and discouraged. It seemed doing good was pointless. Well, not pointless exactly, I mean I wasn’t going to therefore go and do bad. Doing good is good. It’s just that doing good is harder than doing nothing. I had done nothing before and then I worked hard to do good, but in the end, it seemed the results were the same as doing nothing…but I was a lot more tired and discouraged. When I do nothing, I expect nothing, so at least I’m not disappointed. But when I do good, I expect something—so I was disappointed.
“Don’t become weary in doing good.” I kept remembering the command and was convicted… I knew I was wrong. I had become weary. I remembered the command, but was more focused on the command and my failure than the promise attached to it. The rest of that verse, Galatians 6:9, tells us why we should not grow weary—“for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”. I’ve been looking at it like it’s a command, but I’m beginning to think the focus is the promise, and what looks like a command is really more like an inspirational statement. Look everyone, I promise you this, there WILL BE a harvest in your life at just the right time so long as you don’t give up, SO KEEP GOING!!! Don’t give up! Don’t grow weary. Keep on doing good… IT’S WORTH IT!!!
I’m certainly not trying to downgrade God’s word or minimize God’s commands. It is a command, but I am learning to see it more as an inspirational, encouraging command than a condemning one. The promise is hopeful! It’s what I long for—a harvest…RESULTS. Doing good isn’t for nothing—God’s word PROMISES us that no matter what it may seem like in the short term, in the long term, at the proper time, there will be good results for the labor. So don’t give up!
It’s been a long, discouraging week, month, half a year … in many ways. I feel like I’ve been working hard doing good works and not only is there no harvest yet, but I’m being opposed, accused and attacked in many of the areas I’ve been working extra hard to “do good”. It’s discouraging. Part of me wants to just say forget it, it’s not worth it in a few areas.
So, with a full mind and heavy heart, I took the day to leave town and spend some time with God, my journal and my Bible. “Enjoy the ride!” my journal smiles up at me. Fail. I’m done with that journal. Not like I’m done because I’m mad at it, or give up on the concept (though that is tempting at times), done like I’ve filled all the pages—except that I still haven’t done my intro page, and there’s a page left for a conclusion. I’m so committed to my little ritual that if this ever happens, I go back and write that intro page, even after I’ve finished the book. I still remember why I chose it. Every. Single. Page. says “Enjoy the ride!”—how can I forget?
As I wrote in the last page about my failure, I was conflicted. I heard “works, works, works” coming out of me. I know I’m saved by grace alone, but somehow I think and/or live as if I’m sanctified by works. Salvation AND sanctification are processes of grace, things God does for us and in us, NOT things we earn by works. And yet, we are told to do good works…
Then I remembered the image. A bicycle. It wasn’t a horse. I enjoy riding horses (that may be the understatement of the century), but the bicycle was suddenly the perfect image. I don’t remember struggling to learn to ride a horse. I never fell off, got hurt and wanted to quit horses. But bikes are a different story. Learning to ride a bike, (without training wheels) is challenging. I struggled, lost my balance, lost my momentum, fell, got scraped and discouraged and quit… But something would beckon me to try it again. It took a while to learn, and I’m sure there were times in the beginning that I didn’t feel I’d made any progress…and then suddenly, boom…I got it! I found my balance and my stride. Suddenly, I enjoyed riding bikes—but before I could enjoy them, I had to learn how to ride them.
Then I remember a time in high-school, trying to condition for sports, riding my bike I hit some gravel and crashed. Hard. The bike was jacked up and I had to limp home, a hurting, bloody mess, carrying the very thing that was supposed to carry me. I’ll be honest – that one did me in. I had no love for bikes after that. But then I hit college and the sprawling Texas A&M campus. I had one semester where the only possible way to make it to classes in time was to get a bike. I am athletic and coordinated—it wasn’t that I couldn’t ride a bike (I rode all the time as a kid)—but I was scared of it…that last crash had scarred me. I didn’t have a choice though. So for weeks, with white knuckles, I tenuously set out on my bike, terrified of every gravel patch, leery of the train tracks and every other uneven spot in the road, but I did it and throughout the semester, my confidence and my competence grew.
I’m in Colorado now, and everyone has a bike. I just got one myself, a cute little retro-ish bike with an obnoxious, huge basket on front so my dog can ride along with me. (She will—I just underestimated how difficult it would be to have her 20 pounds added to my steering column/front wheel—so whatever, I have a basket now.) And you know what? My fear of bikes is gone and I actually do enjoy the ride. I love to get out on my bike and ride. It makes me feel like a kid again—like I did before I crashed and burned in High school.
So here it is, life and good works are kind of like a bicycle. Sometimes it takes bravery to do them. Sometimes you struggle to find your balance and your stride. Falls and fails are inevitable. That’s Ok. Sometimes you may even get discouraged and put the bike aside for a little while. I’m pretty sure He has grace for that. But bandage your wounds, get your breath and get back on. Keep on. Keep working to find your balance; keep trying; keep doing good. Because eventually, you are going to reap a harvest; eventually you will learn to “Enjoy the Ride!”
I’ve been discouraged. I’ve felt like I failed—I told you that. But you know what? My next journal says “Enjoy the Little Things”. I hadn’t thought about the whole “life is like riding a bike” thing when I chose it. I haven’t felt like getting back on after all my good works seem to have crashed and left me scarred and bleeding and wounded… And this recent wreck sure makes it hard to enjoy anything—my mind and heart are heavy. But still I find myself with a new journal with the same theme. Be thankful. Do good. Enjoy the ride! Enjoy the little things. Get back on the bike. Keep at it. Don’t become weary in doing good—not just because I’m supposed to be strong and keep on fighting, not because I need to feel condemned for feeling weak and being human…but because there is a harvest, and God promises me that it WILL COME, at just the right time. Doing good is never pointless, it’s His promise! I just need to keep pedaling.
If you want to enjoy the ride, you’ve got to keep pedaling.