My bike ride on the west side of Utah Lake the other day turned out to be more than just a bike ride.
I was planning to spend the time thinking about a lesson I was preparing to teach the following day for the teenage girls at church. The lesson was about becoming more like Jesus--to learn about who he was, how he moved through this world, how he engaged with people, and to emulate that.
Nearly 30 miles of road stretched before me. Plenty of time to think, I thought.
Instead, I was distracted by a few steep hills, trying to pace myself and breathe evenly, negotiating curves, a strong headwind, passing traffic, sun in my eyes. I also didn't want to miss the spectacular views of the lake and the mountains beyond.
Then, about 20 miles in, as I reached the southern end of the lake, the road straightened and flattened. The best views were behind me. I found myself inside my head. "This ride," I realized with sudden epiphany, "Is a metaphor for so many of the things I want to talk with the girls about tomorrow."
The road I was following in the hope that I'd have the wherewithal to finish was the path Jesus modeled for us. The hills and curves he dealt with in his own life revealed his capacity for empathy and compassion, for understanding the challenges of others. The strong headwind was the opposition he faced, the willful misunderstanding, and the weak faith of even his most faithful disciples, all requiring patience and diligence. The cars and trucks I had to share the road with were the throngs of people who wanted to hear him and be blessed by him--people his disciples often tried to protect him from, but of whom he always charitably said "let them come" or "let them stay."
Whenever I could, I looked out across the lake. Sometimes I was rewarded with the perfect reflection of snowy peaks on the glassy surface of the water. Glimpses of heaven.
Once, when the road turned and I was heading directly into the sun for a few miles, I had to concentrate hard to follow the white line along the shoulder. The blinding sun became the anger and hurt that keeps us from truly seeing ourselves and others in a way that enables us to forgive, to love with the pure love of Christ. Finally, another bend and I could see clearly again.
The last 10 miles, when the road became straight and flat, was my time in the wilderness. My mind was stilled, and I gained spiritual clarity. But I was also getting tired and hungry.
"And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him" (Mark 1:13).
Just over six miles to go, and I saw Roger and Jack parked by the side of the road waiting for me. "Oh, please," I hoped. "Maybe they will ask me if I want to stop and get a ride." The idea was sorely tempting. Instead, Jack pulled his bike out of the back of the truck and joined me. My ministering angel.
But becoming more like Jesus isn't just about following a road, peddling so many miles, or climbing so many hills. It's about transformation. About being different. About seeing more.
Later that evening as I drove to work, the sun was setting. Brilliantly orange clouds stretched over the mountains to the west, the length of the lake. In my eyes, none of it was the same as it had always been and it would never be again.