I hate exercise. But I love cycling. I can’t even call it exercise because I love it that much. I’m not talking about a spinning class or riding a stationary bicycle, I’m talking about taking my bike out on a trail and riding across gravel and crunchy leaves and over old bridges.
A few months ago I was blessed with the gift of a few hours of time to myself, as for the first time ever, my kids were in school at the same time. I made a promise to myself not to spend that time cleaning or running errands, but biking on my trusty old mountain bike, one of my favorite past times. And it was glorious.
One afternoon a couple of weeks ago, the weather was finally cooler and it was an ideal autumn day. I set out on a ride with my playlist in full swing and I have to say, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Each week I had been able to push myself further and further, and it had been a long time since I’ve had something I’ve truly wanted to invest in for myself. I was rocking it. Then, bam! Out of nowhere, my pedals started spinning aimlessly and my bike stopped moving. I switched gears in a panic, causing my bike to completely lock up. I’m stuck. Just like that, I’m a walker – you know, those people I always pity as I’m riding, because riding gets the job done so much quicker. I can see more scenery and accomplish more in shorter time period. Not so with walking. So, I started the slow walk back to the car, which took double the time. And as each helpful citizen passed and offered to help me out, the amazing feeling I had earlier slowly dwindled. I’m humbled as well as extremely bummed. I wasn’t able to conquer the thing I love doing most, nor the goals I set for myself at the beginning of this new season.
Here I am two weeks later and I’m back on the trail. Only still walking as I wait for my “new bike fund” to grow. I’m forced to go slow, for now. Instead of making it to the winding part of the trail with the creek to my left, I can only make it to the old bridge about halfway down my usual route. It feels like I’m crawling.
Quite honestly, my fitness life isn’t the only thing feels like it’s moving at a snail’s pace. Many things do in this season, including my husband’s recovery. Despite the amazing progress he has made over the past couple of years in the way of his addiction, his progress has now leveled off. Praise God he has been porn free for nearly two years, but there is a piece of his heart that is still holding on to the day in and day out struggles. Like my bike ride, my husband’s progress at first was drastic and encouraging, but eventually it slowed to a jog, and then a walk, and now it feels like a crawl. Sometimes it feels he will never be truly free.
Over the course of our marriage, especially in the early days, I tried everything that I thought would bring freedom to my husband. As we all have done, I took it upon myself to do anything that I thought would conquer this problem. I got angry and expressed my hurt in unhealthy ways. I didn’t get angry enough and tried to ignore the problem. I sent him articles, book recommendations, support group options and videos that I thought maybe, just maybe, might finally change his heart. I checked countless search histories behind his back to try to find something I could use that maybe would force him to give this up.
But, none of these things ever worked. I cannot conquer this sin for him. I cannot conquer it any more than I can will my bike to start working again, even though I can clearly see parts of the bike’s mechanics disconnected from the bike itself. It needs repairs that I am in no way capable of doing myself. My bike needs a skilled repair man and my husband needs his heart in the hands of a mighty God.
And so, I felt God whisper a request to me at the start of this year. He was asking me to let go. To surrender my husband to Him. To take the burden of trying to keep up with his progress or lack thereof, and hand it over. Despite the huge changes my husband had made, there was still more needing to be done that only God could do. Only God could conquer my husband’s heart.
All of what God was asking me to do came together one night as I came to the story in Genesis 32 of Jacob face to face encounter with God. This story takes place the night before Jacob is to meet his brother Esau – the brother he deceived long ago. The brother that as far as Jacob knows, wants to kill him. The scriptures tell us Jacob was afraid for his life, therefore his typical planning and scheming nature kicks in. But here, on the eve of this meeting, Jacob, the expert deceiver, could no longer rely on his own lies and schemes. God meets him and wrestles with him. In this moment, Jacob’s only option was to rely on God’s blessing. He had nothing else. The words of David Guzik’s commentary (Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/genesis-32/) really hit home for me:
“This is an invaluable place for everyone to come to: where God conquers us. There is something to be said for every man doing his wrestling with God, and then acknowledging God’s greatness after having been defeated. We must know we serve a God who is greater than us, and we cannot conquer anything until He conquers us.”
Something else interesting about this story – God wrestled with Jacob. He approached Jacob, not the other way around. God finds us in our sinful state, our pain, our shame and our brokenness – and he takes our hearts in His hands and remakes us. He conquers us. I’ve witnessed this first hand in my own heart over the past two years. I did not ask for God to come into my life and expose the most hurtful parts of my husband’s sin, but through it my heart was conquered and changed in ways I still am unable to fully understand.
So for months now, I’ve prayed what feels like a risky prayer for my husband: Conquer. Lord, conquer my husband’s heart. Risky in the sense that I am scared of how God might go about that. But, like a skilled bike repair man, this is His business and I can trust Him. I can see the changes in my husband, bit by bit. The wrestling is happening, even if it is at a snail’s pace.
My walks on the trail have now become quiet times of reflection. I can still take in the scenery, even though I don’t make it to all of my favorite landmarks. And there is still beauty in this season, as I vacillate between words of praise to God, then to questions and frustrations and sometimes just silence. Don’t get me wrong, I will be so happy the day I can race down the trail on my bike, but for now, I’m in a season of slow change remembering that God can conquer it all.