One Saturday morning in the spring of 1975 I got up early and rode my bike to the Magic Mart parking lot in my hometown. I was participating in a bike-a-thon for the American Heart Association. This event was a fund raiser and I had recruited a number of people who were going to pay me a small amount of money for every mile I rode that day. I told everyone that I was going to ride 100 miles, and my journey was about to begin.
I remember that there were a lot of people of all ages at the starting line that morning. The organizers had laid out a 10 mile circular course that featured a checkpoint at the half-way point. The riders could begin at 7am and ride until 5pm or when they decided that enough was enough. After a short speech from the lead volunteer about the course and checkpoints, we began.
The first few hours were relatively easy, with the exception of the seat on my bike. There were plenty of people to visit with as we made our way around the course again and again. I figured that I would need to average 15 miles per hour to attain my goal in the time allowed. I rode my bike everywhere and made a concerted effort to ride longer distances at higher rates of speed in preparation for this moment. But I discovered that I hadn’t thought about how lonely this ride would be. After the first three hours or so the crowds began to thin and stretch out as more and more people dropped out and our differing speeds separated the riders along the course.
As more and more people dropped out and as the course became less and less populated I developed a strategy to help me achieve my goal. I would focus my attention on a landmark or a rider in the distance and then pedal until I caught them. I did not allow myself the opportunity to coast, I was determined to constantly pedal until I accomplished the smaller goal along the way to my ultimate destination.
I pulled into the start/finish area seven hours after I started, having ridden exactly 100 miles. There were still three hours to ride but I had decided that my backside was finished and went home. I was the only rider in Arkansas that year who rode 100 miles. I succeeded because I set a goal, trained with that goal in mind and kept that goal constantly before me.
Successful parenting is much like my bike ride that day. We must first remember that we are in a marathon, not a sprint. The raising of adults and not kids will take much more than the act of birthing a child...it is a commitment to the long haul, a long haul with the goal of raising mature, responsible adults. We can never allow ourselves to forget that goal; we must keep it before us always. Every decision, every action, must be made with that goal in mind.
Preparation for being a parent is essential. When we learned that we were going to become parents we threw ourselves into learning everything we could about kids and parenting. We observed parents and their interactions with their kids (I was a Youth Minister at the time), making mental notes and engaging some parents in discussions about parenting. But beware; no amount of preparation can fully prepare you for the roller coaster ride that is parenting. You will need to pray and pray and then pray some more. The task is beyond you, but with the help of God you can accomplish the task.
Keep your goal always before you. There will be days when you wonder if it’s worth the struggle, when your children want to rebel or when you’ve reached a point of fatigue and frustration that makes you want to give up and give in. In those moments all you can do is just put your head down and kept pedaling. Keep that goal in front of you and don’t stop until you cross the finish line. Remember, as my wife once frequently told me: “The prize is worth the struggle. “
What did I get that day I rode 100 miles in 7 hours? I got a certificate, a t-shirt, and a mention in the local paper along with a very sore rear end. Those things are all gone now, I have none of them. Even more than those things, I gained confidence and a sense of pride in accomplishing a task that was worth the effort.
Parenting is like that. There will be long stretches of struggle and frustration punctuated by little glimpses of victory. But at the end of the struggle is the great satisfaction of seeing our kids become responsible adults who make a difference in the world.
And who knows, maybe someone will give you a t-shirt.
You can do this.