Summary: So many people feel more alone and alienated than ever before. In this sermon I discuss the grace of Christ which enables hope in the midst of struggle, and the practical tools necessary to build resilience in the face of hardship.
A RIDE THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS
This weekend, as my family and I headed back through the mountains from District Assembly in Denver, we happened to pass a bike race with athletes peddling through the steep twists and turns leading to Wolf Creek Pass and I couldn’t help but marvel at the determination and fortitude which these bikers possessed. As they pushed up the grueling, miles-long climb to over 10,000 ft. we would watch as they slowly shoved one pedal down, and then the other. They weren’t looking around at the cars as they passed, or even at the beautiful scenery which greeted them with every turn. Their eyes were forward, their shoulders down, and they just pushed on.
This reminded me of a time when I was a little boy, probably no more than Samson’s age, out on a ride with my Grandpa. My Grandpa was an athlete all his life, and competed in 100 mile bike rides up to the year he died at the age of 76, even completing the grueling 400+ mile RAGBRAI race across Iowa. Bicycling was a lifelong passion for him, and I asked him one time how he could compete over such amazing distances. I mean, the task of traveling hundreds of miles on your own power is mind-boggling! Surely you have to plan out your rest stops, your calorie-intake, make sure you have enough water and emergency supplies, while also communicating with your support driver so that you have the help that you need, if you need it. The logistics, planning, training, and expense required made me wonder how anyone could commit to such a daunting task.
But as I asked the question, I remember clearly him stopping and as I pulled up level with him on my own bike, he looked at me and said with a smile, “It’s simple really, you just get on your bike and start peddling.”
LIFE ISN'T ALWAYS LIKE A BIKE RIDE
That’s an encouraging story, isn’t it? Sometimes we are tempted to look at life like a bike race or a footrace and assume it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Paul himself repeatedly uses athletic metaphors and imagery, suggesting life is a race that is worth it if we just don’t quit.(1) And while that is certainly true, what do we do when we do feel like quitting? When we feel like the tasks that are in front of us are insurmountable. What do we do when life seems less like a nice, bicycle race through the mountains, with a concrete goal in mind; and instead seems more like a juggling-contest, where more and more balls are piled onto our arms to try and juggle at once, with no clear-cut end game or goal?
That’s a reality I know many of us face today. Our schedules get busier and busier and our lives get lonelier and lonelier. For the first time in our history, more people live in cities than in the country,(2) yet more and more people also live alone than ever before.(3) Economic pressures and the desire for opportunity cause many to uproot from the places where their extended families life, and they often find themselves paradoxically isolated in a crowd of other lonely individuals. And for many, the idea that they must meet all the expectations thrown at them and face the pressure to succeed without any help from others becomes too much for them to bear.
The most recent statistics tell us that depression is the leading health crisis of our time with over 17 million US adults reporting at least one major depressive episode a year.(4) Depression increases the risks of a host of other health problems, and for some, it leads to the ultimate despair: suicide. Suicide isn’t a topic we like to think of often, and the extent of the current suicide epidemic is rarely reported in the media. In the most recent statistics from 2017, over 47,000 men, women, and children lost their lives to suicide; and that’s the highest rate in well over 30 years!(5) I want you to think about that for a second. That’s a medium-sized city lost to suicide every year. That’s 129 people per day. And of those, 22 per day are veterans. Veterans make up just under 8% of the population, but over 17% of suicides.(6)
If a foreign power wiped out a city on U.S. soil, you can bet we’d certainly hear about it in the news! If a terrorist attack wiped out tens of thousands of people, we would remember it for generations! But that is exactly what is happening. An enemy has infiltrated our cities, our communities, even our families; and yet most of us continue with our lives completely unaware of the extent of the problem. This is because the enemy is inside of us. So many of us become our own worst enemies, because we hold on to the unrealistic expectations and hopes which the world feeds us.