“There’s your curb of shame Bill!” My friend riding on the bike next to me laughed as he pointed to the spot on the street where a few weeks earlier I had fallen off my bike and sprained my wrist.
My friend is a pastor — he saves his compassion for other people! All teasing aside, it was no laughing matter when I fell off my bike into traffic five weeks earlier.
I had been training for the San Diego Century, a one hundred mile bike race in the hills of northern San Diego. I found a bargain on a barely-used, light-weight road bike with modern technology in hopes that it would help me to keep up with my 20-year old son. The new bike included clip in pedals which I had never used before and when the bike path crossed the street I slowed down at the cross walk, expecting the oncoming car to stop but he didn’t. I reacted like I was on my old bike and tried to pull my feet out of the cages, but my shoes were clipped in! I fell down on the street, badly spraining my wrist. I picked myself up off the street as bikers, pedestrians, and drivers stared at me.
My wrist was in so much pain that I had to have a cast put on it, but I didn’t let that stop me from continuing to train! Even though my wrist was immobilized my hand was free enough to grip the handlebars and use the breaks so I kept riding.
And I kept falling down! Would you believe that I fell off of my bike three more times in the first month? I felt like I was a little boy who had just taken the training wheels off his bike and was learning to ride for the first time.
But through the process of falling I was learning: I loosened the tightness on my pedals, I practiced clicking out of them, and I realized I could roll onto my shoulder and back when I fell so that I wouldn’t get hurt. Over and over I practiced falling down.
I became “fail safe” (or close to it) on my bike. Contrary to what you might think, to be fail safe does not mean that failure is unlikely to happen – it means that if there is a failure then the negative consequences will be minimized. For instance, a lock is conisdered fail safe even if it may unlock at the wrong time as long as when it does it does not attract any attention to would be thieves.
Learning to fall without getting hurt is a crucial lesson. It’s the first thing you want to learn when learning to ride a bike or skiing down a mountain of snow. When you know how to fall safely it gives you confidence to be adventurous.
Part of falling safely is to do so with no shame, no self-condemnation. But falling in front of fellow bikers and neighbors left me crouching, looking down, and shaking my head. Having to tell and re-tell the story of my fall in order to explain my cast to hundreds of friends, clients, students, and strangers was embarrassing. Later I was comforted to learn from a number of experienced road bikers that I was not as klutzy and ditzy as I felt because everyone falls off their bike when they’re learning to use clip in pedals.
Sin Boldly! Pray Boldly!
Just as everyone falls off their bike so also they fall down in life. “Sin boldly” was the way the great Reformer Martin Luther said it 500 years ago. You might be shocked by his words, but this was just his way of reassuring us of the greateness of the grace of God:
If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world… Pray boldly. (Luther’s Works, vol 48, p 281-282).
“The righteous one falls seven times and rises again” is the wise man’s Proverb (Proverbs 24:16). God knows that you and I are weak and prone to sin. He knows that we will fall down. So don’t play things safe. Don’t worry about your image. Don’t go into “sin management” mode. God has anticipated your future sins and you need to also. Prepare yourself so that if you sin you don’t compound your problem by going into shame.
Sin is never good, yet God brings good out of it when we turn to Jesus! But if sin leads us into self-condemnation then God can’t redeem it for us — not only we replace our self-condemnation with his mercy. So plan now that next time you fall into sin you will run to Jesus for mercy and hold on for dear life!
In grace our all-knowing God of redemption anticipates and prepares for our failings, using them to show us the deeper sin and woundedness in our hearts that need his mercy. He teaches us to open our hearts to him, take his hand of mercy, and follow Christ step-by-step. We fall seven times or as many times as we need to in order to be perfected by God (seven is the number of perfection in the Bible).
Relapse is Part of Recovery
As a therapist I’ve seen this time and again in the lives of the pastors and other Christ-followers I care for. The alcoholic in recovery relapses. The porn user in therapy reverts back to lusting. Those receiving help with panic attacks, self-condemnation, or fear of their spouse’s anger take a step forward but slip back before moving forward again.
There’s a saying used in 12 Step Recovery Groups: “Relapse is part of recovery.” For most people who are getting free from a sin pattern, compulsive behavior, or emotional struggle their progress is uneven and includes falling down again, particularly at the beginning of their recovery. I always tell people that in order to progress in their recovery it’s important for them not to shame themselves if they relapse, but instead to immediately reach for Jesus’ hand of mercy (see Psalm 123:2 and Romans 8:1).
Fail safe. Sin boldly and pray boldly. Curb your shame and don’t be afraid to fall down. Don’t shrink back from stepping out in faith to follow Jesus on an adventure. Go ahead, get on your bike and go for it!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for you: he’ll be there for you when you fall to restore you and strengthen you (2 Corinthians 12:9).