Missionary Musings: Lessons from a failed bike ride

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They say you never forget how to ride a bike once you’ve learned.  I don’t doubt that statement.  Even if it’s been awhile since you’ve ridden, it doesn’t take too long to pick it back up.  But that doesn’t mean you’re not prone to accidents and injuries.  An incident with a mountain bike during summer camp training at Bishop Hodges proved that to me.

Older campers have the opportunity to go mountain biking during their week at camp, and the staff tries out most of the camp activities for themselves during training.  When the time came for me to try out bikes, I was a bit nervous because it had been years since I had ridden one.  But I was willing to give it a shot, and I was confident that I couldn’t mess up TOO badly.

But I did mess up.

Not far into the ride, the group went down a small slope near the camp’s rock climbing wall.  Most bikers probably wouldn’t think much of it.  But for someone who hadn’t ridden in awhile, gaining speed while going downhill, even down a small hill, was terrifying.  As I zipped down the hill, I panicked.  I didn’t squeeze the brakes.  And I wound up skidding out and sliding into some brush along the path to the rock wall.  I gave myself (and the staff members who were riding with me) quite a scare, but thankfully my injuries were limited to a splinter in my hand and a bump on my thigh that soon turned into a big bruise.  I ensured the leader of the bike ride that I was okay, picked myself up, and attempted to brush off the incident with the dirt that clung to my clothes and knees.  But as the leader started to explain more components of the ride to the staff, I fought back tears of embarrassment and anger.  I kept riding, though, still willing to make the attempt, but nervous of another spill.

I followed the staff to outside the office building as we prepared for the next leg of the ride.  As I pulled up outside the office entrance, the camp director came out and asked me if I was comfortable finishing the ride, since she had heard about the incident.  Relieved, and fearful of another accident, I said no.  When the rest of staff had departed, the director asked me if I was okay.  I told her what I thought she wanted to hear:  “yes.”

“Are you sure?” she pressed.

I knew I wasn’t.  And I knew she could tell.  I burst into tears and admitted that I was upset.  I was embarrassed and wondered what the other staff must have thought about me and my abilities when they saw me wipe out.  I was angry that I didn’t have better control of my bike and that I didn’t prevent the crash.  I just wanted to prove to myself that I could complete the ride without incident, and I had failed at that within the first five minutes.  I was expecting the director to tell me that I needed to become proficient in bikes so I could lead a ride with campers as a counselor.  She instead acknowledged that perhaps bike-riding just isn’t in my set of strengths and told me that other counselors could take my place when the time came to take campers riding.

The director’s reminder that I don’t need to be good at everything was a reminder to me of the pressure I had been putting on myself as a missionary at Bishop Hodges.  I was hired because the directors saw promise in me as a youth minister.  And I wanted to meet those expectations and hopes that they had for me.  So when I felt as if I wasn’t meeting them, when I realized that I wasn’t good on bikes or that I was nervous about working with young children, I scolded myself for it.  I felt like I wasn’t a good employee.  But the directors treat me the opposite of how I treat myself in such situations.  They affirm the gifts that I have and seek to put those gifts to use and to help me uncover new talents instead of getting hung up on the gifts I don’t have.

I was grateful for that treatment, of course, but I was also surprised by it.  I didn’t feel worthy of the directors’ kindness and willingness to accommodate my skills.  I half-expected them to treat me the way I treated myself.

I definitely have a problem with self-compassion and self-acceptance if I expect my bosses to talk to me like I talk to myself sometimes:  with harshness and condemnation, telling myself I don’t deserve to be taken care of, questioning whether I have what it takes to be here when my bosses and coworkers keep affirming my abilities and my very self.

What a disservice I’m doing not just to myself, but to the One who created me, who laid my talents and my desires on my heart in the first place.  I might as well be telling God that He messed up when He made me, or that He should have made me somebody else.

But if there’s one thing I know about God, it’s that He doesn’t make junk.  He doesn’t mess up.  And He knew exactly what He was doing when He breathed life into the bones of Erin Daly, so to criticize myself is to criticize Him.

I think that needs to be my prayer as summer camp winds down:  to accept the things I am not and that I don’t have, to embrace the things that I have and to have the courage to let them show, to know that God can use those things for something magnificent if I trust His plan.

I do kind of wish that camp was still a bit longer, so I could see how my prayers play out.  But I’ll be here for another ten months after that.  God’s got plenty of time to show me what I’m capable of.

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