By David Hegg
Years ago, I listened as a world-champion bicycle rider was being interviewed following one of the Tour de France stages. When asked his strategy, he explained, “I always try to make up time when going uphill. While most riders are just trying to keep their position, I really press to advance. Of course, it means I have to train extra hard to take advantage of the greatest challenges on the course.”
I’ll never forget that interview, or the principle I drew from it: Always see challenges as opportunities and hit them head-on.
In this world where things break, people disappoint, viruses ravage and rule, and problems are woven into the fabric of life, there is no such thing as challenge-free living. We all face the uphill climb at some point, and for some it is a long, hard pull. But more important than the problem is our attitude toward it, and our determination to acknowledge it, understand its nature and complexity, and devise a plan to hit it head-on before we ever allow it to run us over.
I feel it just like you do. COVID-19 has been a tyrant, and we’re now aware that it has had some willing accomplices. We’re being treated like children who have no life experience, no education, no problem-solving abilities, and certainly not enough smarts to make wise choices for ourselves. But more important than anything being done to us is the manner in which we will respond to the challenges before us. As I’ve said before in this space, so much of life is about how we respond to the circumstances and opportunities that come our way.
When some folks are faced with problems, trials, and the challenges of life, they become incensed. They live in the fantasy world of problem-free living as though they’ve been promised a life without difficulty. When something breaks, they get mad. When things don’t go as planned, they are shocked and frustrated. They never come to grips with the reality of a traffic-clogged morning commute, or that brakes wear out, dogs bark, waiters mess up orders, teams lose, and politicians politicize and even weaponize all kinds of things. Where life’s obstacles are concerned, these folks under-prepare and over-react, and frankly, it doesn’t help one bit. The rest of us end up having to put up with it. But we don’t have to like it, or worse, join them in it.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who embrace their problems to the point they become identified by them. Over time they have stopped being individuals with robust lives and dreams and have become the sum total of all the bad things they have experienced. They don’t face their problems, they become them. Think those who have bought into the fear so much that they wear their masks while jogging, driving alone, or even while walking their dogs. Argh! And if you dare suggest that their maladies and fears don’t have to suppress their lives, they will immediately give you a hundred reasons why your ideas won’t work. Seems they don’t have an identity without adversity.
Another segment of our society thinks the best way to solve problems is to ignore them. As Linus, the great philosopher of Peanuts fame, once said, “No problem is so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from.” You might call this the “head in the sand” approach to difficulty. These are the folks who go for months ignoring their “check engine” light, that dripping faucet, and the difficult service question from their biggest customer. During the pandemic, the enormity of news and opinions and regulations and mandates has driven them into their own cone of silence from which they hardly ever emerge. They hope problems will solve themselves, or simply be forgotten as new situations arise.
We all realize the folly of allowing the trials of life to rule over us, and yet it takes strength of character to recognize each situation for what it is and face it head-on. Procrastination is never the best plan, and neither is over-reaction. When problems arise, it will help if we’ve already decided to face them honestly, analyze them carefully, and pursue an ethical course in solving them. Sometimes the solution will be patient endurance, while at other times direct action is needed. Regardless, it will always be best to admit the reality of the situation, understand our responsibility in it, and try to turn the challenge into an opportunity for personal growth.
I truly believe many will come out the other side of COVID-19 as better people, stronger people, more community-minded people, and more compassionate people. On the other hand, I also believe we’re on the verge of an eruption of anger on the part of those who refuse to allow this season of adversity to make them better people. I pray for unity, but I also know it doesn’t come unless we respond to our challenges together, in humility and courage.
So, let’s be people who make up time on the uphill climb. After all, if there’s ever to be a time when we can coast, we’ll have to make it to the top of the mountain first.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.