Like Riding a Bike
by: Dr. Rami Nader
Imagine the following situation. Jack is riding his bicycle when suddenly he comes to a stop light. Jack stops and when the light turns green, he tries to start peddling again, but his bike is in tenth gear. What do you think is going to happen? In all likelihood, Jack will be pushing down on the bike peddles with all his strength, but it may not get him moving. If Jack keeps trying, with his feet on the peddles, he will likely fall over because his bike will not get moving. In order to get moving again, Jack needs to gear down, putting his bike in first gear. That will allow him to get moving, but it does not mean he has to spend his entire bike ride in first gear. As Jack gets going, he can gear up to really get rolling.
This is a common analogy I use when I am treating people with depression. One of the major difficulties with depression is that people have lofty goals and expectations for what they should be doing, but have little motivation or energy to accomplish those goals. Essentially, they are trying to get moving, even though their bike is in tenth gear. As they fail to accomplish their goals, they feel worse about themselves, the world and their future and this saps their energy and motivation. So one of the main techniques of treatment is to surrender bigger goals, for now, and work on little, more achievable goals in order to build successes. While failure saps motivation and energy, success builds motivation.
This makes sense when it comes to treating depression, but it seems like we shy away from this type of approach when it comes to fostering and developing our faith and relationship with God. It would be great if deepening faith was like hitting a light switch - one day you lack faith and a relationship with God and the next day, voila, faith! Like some slight of hand by the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that people do not have life-transforming encounters with God, but these encounters generally do not maintain or grow faith. It is the steps of faith that people walk that foster and develop their faith.
So what should you do? What action should you take to enhance your faith? I do not think it matters what you do, as long as you succeed at what you decide to do. Success builds motivation and faith. If you never go to church, should you expect that you will start attending church every Sunday for the rest of your life? If you do not read your Bible regularly, is it realistic to expect that you will start reading it every day for an hour? While these are laudable goals, if they are unachievable, what is the point? Failing to achieve your faith goals can lead to spiritual depression, sapping your motivation, energy and faith.
Instead of holding lofty spiritual expectations for yourself, maybe the better approach is to give up immediate expectations of being a spiritual giant and decide to read your Bible once a week for five minutes. Or volunteer to work in Sunday School one time. Or pray for one person in your church each week. If you set goals to build your faith and you accomplish those goals, your faith will grow. Slowly at first. But success increases motivation and achieving one goal, may lead to setting others. Through your actions, God will bless you, you will bless others and your faith will grow, making it easier to do more in faith. Just like riding a bike.
(Article appeared in the Spiritually Speaking Column of the North Shore News on May 18, 2007)