Learning to Shift

A good friend of our family was in town recently for a conference. While visiting, she was excited to tell us that she had recently decided to take up road biking so that she could ride with her husband, who is already an experienced biker. My friend works out on a regular basis and certainly knows how to ride a bike, and so she anticipated that she would adapt quite quickly to her new sport. In turned out she was both right and wrong about that. She found it easy to ride the bike, but quite difficult to figure out the shifting.  

Her new road bike has 21 gears or speeds and she had never ridden a bike with more than three previously. First, she had to figure out what the left had shifters controlled versus the right hand shifters. She had to figure out how to get into gear 5 or gear 14 or gear 21. This was hard enough, but there was more to learn. Next she had to learn out on the open road, when to use what gear. What gear do you use to go down a hill or up a hill? When do you shift into a lower gear as you approach a hill? She found if she shifted either too early or too late she lost valuable momentum and the climb up the hill become much more difficult. She eventually realized that she could only learn the art of shifting through miles and miles of experience on her bike. There was no simple formula of when to use which gear, but rather she would have to get the “feel” of when it was the right time to shift into a different gear. She was excited to report that in just the three weeks since she had purchased her bike, she was already making good progress.


During our visit our friend was also telling us about her son who is going off to college later this month. The topic had now changed to a whole different kind of shifting. A big hill is just ahead for my friend and her husband, and their son. Since neither of them have done this before, the shifting is bound to be a bit awkward at first. I remember when each of our children went off to school. I tried to pretend like I could ride right through this transition and I minimized the amount of shifting that would be required. Of course when I did this, I soon found myself out of breath, and forced to slow down and give this important transition the time it would take to work through.


When it comes to our emotional and spiritual wellness, the more gears we have available to us, the better off we will be. Knowing when to slow down and when to speed up, and learning the art of shifting back and forth between the full range of emotions, from sorrow to joy, will help us better negotiate the hills and valleys we face. Learning to gracefully accept that “to everything there is a season” is the heart of much wisdom and wellness. There is one more thing that every cyclist soon learns that also has direct application to wellness. Biking long distances is made much easier when you ride with a group, because each person takes turns breaking the wind for those behind. As you and I continue to perfect the art of shifting in our lives, may we also remember the importance of finding others with whom we can share the ride.