It may surprise you to know, but I was a late learner when it came to riding a bike. My early cycling years were characterised by a great many attempts at conquering the art of forward motion on two wheels, blighted by a series of accidents, skinned knees and resulting in my frustrated parents giving up all hope of me ever ‘getting it’.
On one particular occasion we went to have yet another try, this time in a car park, at my Dad’s place of work – Bishop Otter College. The car park was where the present library sits and was a vast tarmacked area, with a dip on one side. It was the holidays – the car park was empty but for one car, in the far corner. It was red I remember, a Ford Escort. The reason I remember that one car so well is that despite starting off with my Dad holding the saddle at the furthest possible end from the one parked car, somehow I managed, at frightening speed and without even thinking of touching the perfectly operational brakes, to smash headlong into the side of the car, sending me spilling over the bonnet, in a kind of twisted, bone-crunching Starsky and Hutch manoeuvre. That was it as far as I was concerned. Bike riding was not for me.
Then, around my 8th birthday, fed up with my mates hurtling off round the block on their bikes while I timed the laps. I went to the shed, pulled out my bike, dusted off the saddle, swallowed my fear of failure and went for it…. I didn’t even wobble. It was like a dream, I was fast, smooth, I can remember distinctly the wind on my face, the thrum of the tyres on the tarmac, the near collision with a car coming the other way as I had forgotten what side of the road I should be on… It was, quite simply, freedom. Fear of failing evaporated and I have never looked back. A life-long love affair with two wheels began. For me it will remain the best way to get around, even in the harshest of weather and despite numerous accidents with cars (stationary and moving) since.
For many years I was convinced that riding a bike was not for me. I was so afraid of failing (again) and the growing ignominy of my friends that I thought it best not to bother at all.
Fear of failure is crippling. It crushes creativity and stifles imagination. When Simon Peter stepped onto the lake of the Sea of Galilee it was his fear of drowning that caused him to sink. I am writing this just a few days before our Spirit of Pentecost event – and it is raining and we have never done this before and it is uncertain and new and it is bound not to work…let’s call the whole thing off! Thus says the voice in my head at two in the morning. The fear of it not working is palpable. Then I have to remind myself, or have someone remind me, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ No-one comes, it flops, it just doesn’t work.
But then what if we didn’t try at all? It could be great. It could be a great time of worship, witness and faith made real. It could be the beginning on something big. It could be amazing….
Every action we make, every plan we hatch carries two risks. The first risk is that it might not work. The second risk is the risk of not trying it. How is not trying a risk? You risk settling and continuing in the same direction in the same way, wondering about other paths and possibilities, believing that this is as good as it gets while discontent gnaws away at your soul. Either way, do it or not, there is always a risk.
Failure when it comes, and it will, is not all it is cracked up to be. The world won’t end if no-one comes on Sunday. When failure happens we need to ask ourselves, Why did I do that? What have I learned? How will I do it differently in the future? What you would have called a failure becomes another opportunity for increased clarity about who you are and what you’re doing here.
If we all saw failure and risk in this way then we would be much happier, more fulfilled people. We would be better at serving God’s church and our community. We would be more together in the work of the Gospel to build the Kingdom of God and we would be unafraid to get back on that bike, pedal and fly off into freedom.