“Don’t forget to fasten your seatbelt.”
I recall waiting at the red light. The driver next to me had leaned out of his window to give me that suggestion. Or was it advice? Or a joke? He smiled and I smiled and then he made his turn, merging his car into the traffic.
The light turned green and I bicycled across the intersection, still smiling. Fasten your seatbelt, the car guy says to the bike guy. Right. Road humor. (Once, before walking my dog chewed into my exercise time, I oft pedaled the roads of Fresno.)
The driver’s comment was more a joke, but I probably filed it in the advice category because I had recently given my sage advice to another person sharing the road of life and skinny tires with me.
Now, let me preface these next comments by objectively stating that what I provided—free of charge—was excellent advice. Was my advice uninvited? OK, no one had asked to hear my opinion. Am I a qualified expert in the subject? OK, I wouldn’t even be considered an amateur.
But why let common sense prevent dispensing my valuable insights?
Here’s the situation. You be the judge. For several days in a row I had pedaled by a fellow biker on the path at a nearby regional park. While cruising by, I’d say, “Howdy.” He returned the favor. Road greetings.
It appeared to my less-than-amateur bicyclist eyes that his bike was new. Every part of his sleek two-wheeler was shiny and sparkly. Also obvious was that he was overweight. As with many bicyclists, including me, I figured he was biking to get in better shape.
Good for him!
However, regardless of his weight, on the bike his body was “out of shape.” One of the few things I know is that a bicyclist’s legs should be nearly fully extended at the lowest point of the pedal rotation. The knee will be slightly bent, with this position maximizing the pedaling power of the legs. His knees were “out of shape.” When he pedaled, his body seemed to be as tightly wound as a pretzel.
Morning after morning I noticed his enthusiastic efforts and awkward movements. I decided to offer him advice: “Raise your seat,” I said, after wishing him a good morning. I slowed, and then explained it would make the biking easier.
Without hesitation, he said, “I’ll fix it right now.”
As I kept moving, he braked to a stop. I glanced back. Yup, he was off his bike and adjusting his seat (or “saddle,” as real cyclists might say). I thought: Oh-boy. It probably won’t help. He’ll blame me for the day he quit exercising, or when he broke part of his new bicycle. Of, if he continues biking, the next time he sees me, he’ll curse me.
I pedaled faster. Hey, I love giving advice, especially when I can quickly leave the scene of the verbal crime.
I wish I gave advice like Jesus did . . . with stories. So often my advice, in preaching, in writing, and even on my bike, is saying, “You should do this.” Jesus tended to tell a parable. Whether it was a woman baking bread or a rich man hoarding treasure, the Gospels show Jesus frequently NOT giving advice. Those parables were relational gifts, ways for the other to hear something she or he could now struggle with on their own. What is the best treasure? Who is my neighbor? Should I offer forgiveness? In the Gospels, Jesus didn’t dispense advice, but offered people a different view of the world.
Or there was Nathan, King David’s court prophet. He tells David a story after the King has bedded Bathsheba. Confronting David’s horrific infidelity and selfishness, Nathan does not give advice. In 2 Samuel 11 & 12, Nathan challenges David’s sin by telling a story. David does not receive a check-list of failures from his ethics advisor. He is given the gift of discovering his own indiscretions and poor choices.
Maybe we don’t have time for stories.
Maybe it’s just easier to pedal by another and tell them what to do.
A week or so later, I did see the bicyclist again. When he spotted me, he waved and, as we passed, he said, “Thanks. It’s better!”
“So, raising the seat helped?” I asked.
Giving advice is irresistible. I am forever tempted to share my wisdom with you, happily adding one more dish to the potluck of your life! And yet, I think the way of the story helps us dig deeper. Some things are made “better” because we can adjust a seat by an inch or two. But most of what is important, and will help our faith grow, is best discovered when we enter into the story and claim the questions as our own.