"Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course." ~ William Shakespeare
As someone who enjoys cycling, for me, the Tour de France is always an amazing event to watch. For 21 days, 100 plus professional cyclists traverse over 2,100 miles through the beautiful countryside and mountain ranges of France. The strength and stamina needed to compete in this race are astounding. I don't know many other competitions that require such toughness, determination or endurance. In fact, the premiere stage of this year's tour featured Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia (this year's winner) climbing 14,446 feet (2.73 miles vertically!) over a 107-mile ride while averaging 22.3 miles per hour. That is almost unbelievable!
Inevitably, each rider that commits to race up hills averaging grades of 7-15% will end up wearing the suffering face seen in the picture above. While Shakespeare might call this "embracing sour adversity", our military has coined the less poetic phrase of "embrace the suck." Either way, the message is the same: Adversity is coming, so buckle up. We are simply left with the decision to face it head-on or avoid it at all costs. There is no victory in avoidance, but joy can be found at the end of our perseverance.
So the question comes, "Will I endure it? Will I embrace the pain for the joy it will yield?"
For the last few years, I and two friends have set up a cycling challenge for ourselves to tackle. In years past, we have completed 200-mile, 2-day rides. This year, we have decided to mix it up with an insane climbing test. While an average 30-mile ride in East TN might average about 1,500-1,800 feet in climbing, this ride will have us attempting to climb 9,000 feet over 76-miles in the mountains of North Georgia. We will be pedaling to the Brasstown Bald lookout atop the highest paved point in the state (4,784 feet).
Parts of my brain enjoy these physical challenges. The "can I do it?" or "can I finish?" questions push me to train, to strive, and to "embrace the suck." The other part of my brain, which emerges about halfway up a climb, says, "What are you doing? Just stop already! You aren't made for this." So in reality, the biggest challenge is which mental model will win. To which voice in my head will I listen? Will I push past the pain to find victory and joy?
Honestly, the challenge of riding a bike where most people never would is in no way comparable to the perseverance I see every day in the people I have the pleasure of knowing and serving in my workplace. At FOCUS Ministries, we help former felons and addicts find true freedom and hope. It's both a tough and rewarding job. It can take an emotional toll on the soul watching people battle against past choices and present temptations. But being on the front row to witness the victory of breakthrough and sobriety is a treat I cannot explain with words.
When I pedal to a place of pain, I often think of the man who has had to battle the demons of substance abuse since he was 13 years old. When I want to throw in the towel and give up, I remember the woman who rose out of the ashes of abuse, addiction, and radical insecurity to find true worth, real hope, and a bright future. Each day I witness some of the bravest men and women I know fight against a felony tag, the grip of addiction, and overwhelming personal shame. There is no suffering I will ever feel on a bike that compares to that of a FOCUS student in recovery. It pushes me to understanding, to prayer, to compassion, and to purpose.
This weekend I will be suffering with friends one pedal stroke at a time. I know we will laugh (and possibly cry) at the decision we made. But I also know I will feel very accomplished at the journey's end. At many points in the uphill suffer-fest, I will be praying for my friends that they feel even more accomplished at their journey's end.