Patches of snow in the shade belied the balmy temperatures and blue skies as we unloaded the bus and trailer at the trailhead parking lot in Sedona. Ten students had signed up for a mountain-biking adventure on Super Bowl Sunday, and the veteran riders quickly organized themselves to unload bicycles and pass out riding gloves, water bottles and helmets.
The new riders asked the others for help adjusting helmets and seat heights, and within twenty minutes the group had left the trailhead to start our adventure. Pedro rode at the front of the troop, and I played caboose. It soon became clear that one of the riders would have problems on the trail.
I offered to help her raise her seat, so that she could have more torque going up the hills, but she quietly declined. I soon realized she wanted the seat low so that she could keep her feet on the ground any time a rock, root or incline showed up (which happened often on the moderately difficult trail).
When the incline proved to steep, she would dismount and push her bicycle. Mile after mile, I stayed behind her, offering the occasional encouragement when she braved the terrain and stayed on her bicycle over a patch with loose rocks or kept her feet on the pedals for more than a hundred feet.
Each time she pushed her bike up or down or over objects, I had a lot of time to think. When she disappeared over a crest or around a corner, I would ride at my normal pace until I saw her again. Every twenty minutes or so, when the trail forked, we would catch up to the bigger group and they would point the way before taking off again.
I knew I had several possible reactions to the situation. We could turn back—but I knew she really wanted to go on the trip. I could stop her and point out all that she was doing wrong—but I didn’t know her very well because she didn’t have any classes with me. Or I could just continue to stick with her and offer words of praise—but I knew we held up the rest of the riders who operated at a more advanced level.
The whole situation made me think of a person’s Christian walk and other Christians’ responses to their fellow travelers. She started on the journey because she wanted to—she had heard rave reviews from other students about how much fun she could have on a beautiful Sedona ride.
Once she started and realized she had bit off more than she bargained for, she could have quit or whined or complained (she didn’t do any of those things). Perhaps the fact that the other riders always cheered for her when she showed up had something to do with her great attitude (maybe we need to do a bit more cheering in our churches).
When the others elected to go on a spur trail to Chicken Point, she and I made our way slowly back to the bus, and we all arrived within about 15 minutes of each other (none of the advanced riders gave her a hard time for circling back early).
I should confess that at one point I started contemplating my own superior mountain biking skills—and about a minute later I hit the brakes too hard and lurched forward onto the handlebars, almost flipping over before I retained my balance (maybe the times WE mess up is because we’re comparing ourselves to others).
Here’s what I learned:
1. Come alongside other Christians, but remember that if they refuse your advice, it’s not about you—it’s about them and what they’re ready to hear.
2. Cheer for each other in church (ok, your pastor might freak out about this—but do celebrate progress in your fellow travelers).
3. If someone has to circle back, just keep encouraging them.
4. Eschew comparisons, or you might end up stumbling in your own walk!
What about you? Have you learned anything about coming alongside other Christians?