When you find yourself riding a bicycle across the U.S. to raise money and awareness for anti-human trafficking efforts, as one often does, there are a number of ways to occupy the long periods of time you spend pedaling. Sometimes you ask yourself exactly why you are doing such a thing. Sometimes you count animal carcasses. In moments of severe discomfort (and they have been plentiful), I have found myself singing in an effort to divert my thoughts from the pain or exhaustion. My catalog of ‘80s worship choruses is extensive. Majesty.
But there have been moments in which I have been drawn to the thought of those who are living in the bondage of modern slavery or are at-risk to become so. I suppose it may seem normal to think about that sort of thing while riding on this tour, though in the training session they mostly focused on avoiding flat tires, car doors and animal carcasses.
The trouble is, I don’t exactly know how to think about enslaved children in Southeast Asia. But they still come to mind. It could simply be God reminding me that my struggle is voluntary and that I have been enjoying freedom, while others are learning, often at far too young an age, that the world doesn’t feel like it owes them anything. Maybe my temporary suffering is supposed to help me relate to those who are suffering through much worse and don’t have a lot of options.
Though I can’t tell you exactly why my thoughts have gone where they have this summer, here is one thing I do know: I have spent a number of summers thinking about one thing more than anything else.
If I were on my couch in my living room in my beautiful neighborhood on the north side of Chicago right now watching the MLB Network, or at North Avenue Beach playing volleyball, or drinking pour-over coffee at Asado Coffee Company, I can tell you what I would most likely not be thinking about.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying you’re wasting your life by doing things you enjoy. I probably don’t even know you. Your life could be filled with epic, fruit-producing circumstances of the most life-wrenching kind. But if you’re anything like me, you tend to sink into comfort, fun and the familiar. At times it makes me uneasy to feel too comfortable, but usually not enough to do anything about it other than complain about how uneasy it makes me feel to my familiar friends whilst having fun in a comfortable place.
Even the thought of removing some cushioning from my nicely padded lifestyle would have been somewhat terrifying and anxiety-invoking a year or two ago. But I think I’ve just become bored with being comfortable. To go along with that, I’ve also grown tired of being an unproductive member of society. I honestly believe I feel some innate desire to be or do something for someone other than myself—someone who needs me. It’s possible we were always meant to feel that, and along the way some lie told us our own personal well-being was a priority.
I’m starting to realize I need to learn to depend on something as much as I need to be depended upon; maybe even more. See, when you have made yourself comfortable it’s easy to believe you are pretty good and have accomplished something: “Marvel at how I have provided myself with cable television” or, “Can you believe the trendy yet reasonably priced meal I have purchased?” The problem is that, in reality, I only ever have things because God allowed it. It is difficult to realize how much you need God when you think you are smart, or become comfortable in your own abilities.
There is, in fact, a stream of thought I’m following here, so please allow me to summarize:
There is a guy named Ben who has spent most of his life believing in the “American Dream” that tells him the goal of life is comfort and avoiding pain. God cares about Ben and knows that, in order to grow and understand things, Ben has to realize how much he should depend on God to provide for him. There also happen to be a few other people in the world who need God to provide for them as well, and when Ben was able to tear himself from the things he thought made him happy, he came to see that the things James chapter one tells us about suffering, as well as what Isaiah chapter 61 proclaims of the captives and broken-hearted, are very true and can be life-altering. There is a harvest of personal benefit; but much more importantly, benefit that is exponential and eternal.
This is a start for me. I am clearly a novice when it comes to selfless thoughts. Venture Expeditions, the nonprofit that organizes adventure trips and tours such as this one, has a slogan: “Benefit the world. Discover the soul.”
I think I get it. But not necessarily in that order.