Mountain bike prayers
Last year, I competed in a high-school league mountain-bike race a few hours from where I live in northern California. I have been racing for two years on a team of about 12 riders. This was my second race of the season, and I had put in a lot of time in training, hoping to do well in the race.
Usually I would read that week’s my Bible Lesson before practice or competition, but that Sunday morning I didn’t feel like I needed any metaphysical prep. All I knew was that “me, myself, and I” were ready to roll.
Then, with two minutes to go until the start of the hour-long race, I suddenly became very fearful and uncomfortable. Looking around at the faces of my fellow competitors, I felt small and alone. Checking my brakes, gears, and helmet clip one last time, I clipped my right shoe into the pedal and looked out toward the course. Thirty seconds. Then parents, coaches, and supporters joined in shouting the ten-second countdown, and before I knew it, we were tearing down the trail and climbing the hill. Shaking off the momentary fear, I powered up the hill and toward the front of the pack.
Then, at the first turn, 15 riders and 15 bikes—including mine—piled up in one big crash. I wasn’t hurt, but as I tried to untangle myself and keep going, the fear suddenly returned. Once I had freed myself from the mess, I pushed ahead, but I knew it was time to start “lifting” my thought with prayer.
My first thought was to thank God for all the blessings of the day. I was grateful for the opportunity to express my God-given qualities of strength, freedom, energy, and joy through mountain biking. As I was pedaling hard, the melody from a favorite hymn, “Mother’s Evening Prayer” (Christian Science Hymnal, No. 207), began to play through my thought. I’ve been familiar with this hymn, which is a poem by Mary Baker Eddy, since long before I learned to ride a bike. It has five verses but the first two stood out to me that morning:
O gentle presence, peace and joy and power;
O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour,
Thou Love that guards the nestling’s faltering flight!
Keep Thou my child on upward wing tonight.
Love is our refuge; only with mine eye
Can I behold the snare, the pit, the fall:
His habitation high is here, and nigh,
His arm encircles me, and mine, and all.
Knowing that peace was a powerful presence, not just an absence of chaos, was a very uplifting thought. And if God, Life, “owns each waiting hour,” and cares for me, keeping me “on upward wing,” then I could abandon all the fear and doubt I had been feeling from worrying about what would happen later on in the day.
In my eyes, there were plenty of snares, pits, and falls in this race, and I felt like I was getting caught on every obstacle on the trail. But once I started looking at the course from God’s perspective, it wasn’t about the rocks, or the sharp turns, or the terrain. I could express those qualities of strength, freedom, energy, and joy unhindered by material limitations. It’s divine law.
When I put my whole trust in God, all of the limitations fell away, and I was free to "follow and rejoice / All the rugged way."
Six miles into the race, I felt like I had uplifted my thought and overcome everything that had stood in my path, both mentally and physically. But then suddenly, some mud and sand sprayed up from the bike in front of me and got in my eyes, causing my contact lenses to shift so that I could not see clearly anymore. My hands, also muddy, proved useless in trying to fix the contacts, but I didn’t want to stop racing. In the middle of the race, I instantly stopped worrying about the trail ahead and turned my thought fully to God.
The first thought that had to go was the discouragement. I was upset that I had encountered yet another big challenge. Then the idea came that I was not alone, and I never would be. These challenges may have seemed intimidating at first, but I could never really be separated from God, Love. I went back to “Mother’s Evening Prayer” but found that a different melody was playing in my head. This one was one of the arrangements to “ ‘Feed My Sheep’ ” (Hymnal, No. 304), another poem by Mary Baker Eddy.
I couldn’t understand why God was giving me this poem to think about. I knew the words. I knew the tune. Old news. Why, in this moment, did I need to hear this? Then it all became clear, and I almost laughed aloud at how appropriate the message was, especially in the first verse:
Shepherd, show me how to go
O’er the hillside steep,
How to gather, how to sow,—
How to feed Thy sheep;
I will listen for Thy voice,
Lest my footsteps stray;
I will follow and rejoice
All the rugged way.
God is my shepherd, and had already been caring for me and guiding me the same way a shepherd cares for his flock. Yes, this was certainly a steep hillside, and the way did seem very rugged—so I needed to listen for God’s voice. I could not stray from God’s love or care. It wasn’t just that God would get me through the end of the race; He was enabling and encouraging me to rejoice in every moment of it!
The turning point for me was realizing that I had a job to do. I was there, not for myself, but to learn “how to gather, how to sow,— / How to feed Thy sheep.” What did that mean, in the middle of a race? The thought came to me that I was also there for others. I was learning how to support and love those around me, to “feed” the needs of the other racers.
I had been racing very closely with one girl for almost half the race, and we were both in need of some encouragement. We began to talk and were soon encouraging each other up every hill and down every dip and turn. When she nearly fell, I was there to make sure she was all right, and when my tires slid on the sand, she told me to go in her tracks so my tires could grip the rock. Back and forth, we met each other’s needs the rest of the race all the way to the finish line.
I had been thinking that healing would come when the sand and mud were gone from my eyes and the contact lenses moved back into place, but when I put my whole trust in God, all of the limitations fell away, and I was free to “follow and rejoice / All the rugged way.” My eyesight never went back to perfect during the race, but my mental vision stayed clear. My contact lenses eventually must have come out, since I didn’t have them at the end of the race—and yet I rode with complete confidence and capability, shaving 15 minutes off of my last time for that course.
I am grateful for this experience, as it reminds me to trust in God with my whole heart every day, and to expect only good. On page 66 of Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Each successive stage of experience unfolds new views of divine goodness and love.” With a new view of divine goodness and love, I look forward to finding out more ways that I can learn to serve others in everything I do, both on and off the bike.