Have you ever helped a child learn how to ride a bike?
A couple of Saturdays ago, that’s what I was doing. One of our kids had tried—and gotten close—more than a year earlier. But after a mishap that left us both on the ground, tangled up in the bike, she hadn’t wanted to try again. The bike had been hanging in the shed ever since.
But now, she said she was ready. Her friends could all ride, and she was tired of feeling left behind. She wanted to try again. So we took down her bike, aired up the tires, and drove to a school parking lot where we would have plenty of room to practice. This time, she was determined to get it.
After several attempts, though, we were both frustrated and discouraged. I tried steadying her bike by holding onto the handlebars. I tried holding the back of her seat. I tried holding the seat and the handlebars. Nothing worked. She wobbled and wavered and didn’t seem to be making any progress at all. We both knew that if I let go, she would crash. She was scared of getting hurt. I was worried that if she got hurt, she would never want to get on a bike again.
That’s when I remembered: I’d had this experience before! (Why can’t I remember these lessons better?) I told her I had an idea, and she reluctantly agreed to try once more. But this time, I let go of the bike and just supported her. I put one hand under each of her arms and started jogging alongside as she peddled.
And it worked! My attempts to keep her from falling had actually been holding her back. She needed my presence and support, but she also needed me to stop holding onto the bike so she could find her balance. As soon as I let go of the bike, everything changed. We had both been frustrated with her lack of progress, but now we were both excited by her quickly-developing ability. A few minutes later, she did a complete lap around the parking lot all by herself. And a few minutes after that, she was ready to head home, excited to show the rest of the family that she had learned how to ride a bike.
I’ve thought about that experience a lot over the past few weeks. In many ways, I think it’s a great picture of parenting. It seems like being a parent is a continual process of adjustment and change, trying to find the right balance between protective support and the freedom to learn and grow. As a parent, I often catch myself being too critical and controlling with my kids. This approach leaves both me and my kids frustrated. But when I take a step back and stop trying to force the issue, I leave room for God to work in my children’s life. Instead of managing behavior, I can mentor beliefs that enable them to learn and grow.
But it’s not just parents who can hold on too tightly. The more I think about other parts of my life—not just parenting—the more I begin to recognize additional areas where I hesitate to loosen my grip, to let go of the handlebars and my desire for control.
And yet, that’s exactly what God invites me to do. Following Christ is not about controlling; it’s about trusting. And it’s hard to trust when I’m hanging onto my own agenda too tightly.
I just finished (re)reading A Praying Life by Paul Miller. If I could recommend to you one book on the Christian life, it would be this one. It’s been a real game-changer for helping me to grow in dependence on God instead of my own self-will. Here are a few excerpts on exactly this point:
Self-will and prayer are both ways of getting things done. At the center of self-will is me, carving a world in my image, but at the center of prayer is God, carving me in his Son’s image. (p. 142)
What do I lose when I have a praying life? Control. Independence. What do I gain? Friendship with God. A quiet heart. The living work of God in the hearts of those I love. The ability to roll back the tide of evil. Essentially, I lose my kingdom and get his. (p. 109)
When you stop trying to control your life and instead allow your anxieties and problems to bring you to God in prayer, you shift from worry to watching. You watch God weave his patterns in the story of your life. Instead of trying to be out front, designing your life, you realize you are inside God’s drama. As you wait, you begin to see him work, and your life begins to sparkle with wonder. You are learning to trust again. (p. 60)
Is there an area in your life right now where you are hanging on, trying to make things happen on your own? What might it look like for you to “let go,” to stop trying to control the situation and instead to focus your energies and efforts on asking God to do his work?