Points to Ponder/The Road Best Traveled

by Pastor Dennis Whitmore

While bicycling on a five day, 488 mile trip across Virginia, I logged several reflections, “points to ponder” which came through hours of quiet pedaling and praying. It is an annual spiritual retreat for me, during which I feel especially close to God.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day as I rode from Laurel, MD to Thornburg, VA on day one of my adventure. It was 99.3 miles. I probably should have biked around the parking lot of the motel a couple of times to make it kick over 100. A lot of touring groups give out “Century” patches to honor such an achievement; but since there was no patch to earn, I stopped when I got there. Period.
It is interesting how hard we push ourselves beyond what is truly necessary in order to achieve some temporal reward, which only we would appreciate anyway. I thought about Lance Armstrong’s incredible accomplishment in the Tour de France.
I know just a scratch of what kind of work it is to power a bike up a mountain, and through the cold rain and the hot sun. My touring bike probably weights about 60 pounds fully loaded - so it is painful work on long climbs and stiff winds.
I also know that with two little girls at home I can not do a two week long trip, as has been my custom. Last summer was the last time for one of those. It is not physically hard to ride for two weeks; it is emotionally and mentally hard. After a few days out, I’m already missing the family and feeling guilty when my oldest says to me over the phone at night, “Daddy, you wanna play with me?”
I thought about Lance Armstrong and his recent divorce. I was particularly troubled by an article about him a few months earlier, in which the writer emphasized how much more focused Lance could be in the Tour because he would not be hindered by the presence and pressure of his family. At least three times the writer highlighted the break up as a positive for Lance. Now he could really focus on his training and his goal.
I pondered this and found it painful to consider. One must be mentally focused in order to endure the months of grueling training which racing in the Tour de France requires. I find that on my first day away on my bike, I’m thinking of Elizabeth getting up in the morning often calling for me or looking for me. I think of little Joanna’s smile and laugh when she would see me. For the next few days in history, I will not be part of those events. They will not be part of my experiences. I need this time away for the deeper prayer and reflection it affords, but it must be balanced with the vows I took before God at the altar. With all the sermons I have preached on the sanctity of life and the priority of family, I must sacrifice the great pleasures and achievements I could have today, because it requires me to withdraw some of the principal from my investment in tomorrow. (My relationship with my kids.)
My wife needs a godly husband who walks with Him in a real and observable way. That requires investment in myself, time away, and regular prayer - but not too long. I ponder how well I’m balancing these things. I cannot get it off my mind. But Lance has to in order to focus his mind on his condition, his diet, his performance, and every nuance of the racecourse. Meanwhile his children are growing and changing daily. And he is missing it. Based on interviews I have recently read, I think Lance Armstrong is realizing what he has been losing while he has been winning. He may not try for win #7 in the Tour, because (according to an article I read) he has begun to add up how much it is costing him; at least I hope so.
I ponder the management of my time and priorities regularly. When I’m on the bike, I’m usually discussing it out loud with God. I am such a blessed person. I have a healthy body and (relatively) healthy mind. I have a wonderful wife who is my best friend on earth. Though I did not at first really want to be a parent, I am the proud father of two of the most beautiful girls in the world. This is both heart warming and frightening (especially when I imagine them as teenagers!)
“As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” (Psalm 103)
I am blessed with blessings, and as I spin my wheels, literally, I must reflect on the awesome responsibility, which comes along with them. I ask God to help me be wise on the use of my time and in how I prioritize what I think is important. I have come to understand that there are no real careers in life - that focuses our perspective on ourselves. God gives us a stewardship, a responsibility to care for what He has given into our hand, with the gifts, which He has provided, so that all through our lives the ultimate glory goes to Him. A truly satisfying life is one which glorifies God in all of its aspects.
A wise friend once told me, “All that really matters in life is what will matter on your death bed.” Were you a faithful spouse, a good parent, a godly person toward your neighbor? Most of all, do you know where you are going after you breathe your last?
It is exhilarating to climb the mountain and achieve the goal; but of what lasting value is any of it if you are not standing on the Rock? You really do not know the true value of anything in your life until you are. (See Matthew 7:24-27)
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Dennis
Pastor Whitmore serves God at The First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD. Visit www.fumcl.org.