My husband and I recently bought a new bicycle with training wheels for our six-year-old daughter, Lucy. This particular bike has a lovely little plastic basket attached to the front where she can keep items in transport such as a small water bottle, rocks, hair accessories, small toys, sticks, crayons and other random objects.
The salesman who sold us the bike proudly explained that the training wheels are attached at a high point on the rear wheel, allowing for intentional wobble between training wheels and rear wheel. “The theory,” said the well-meaning salesman, “is that this design encourages the child to learn balance and coordination faster so they can get rid of training wheels sooner.” That sounded all well and good at the time. Don’t we all want our children to learn fast and keep up with or get an edge up on their peers?
A few weeks into June, my husband and I took our nine-year-old, Liam and Lucy on a mile and a half bike ride down a trail that we thought would make for an easy and quick ride. Liam and I also had new bikes and we were excited to try them out. Twenty minutes down the trail, Lucy was miserable. She wasn’t able to keep up with the three of us even at what we thought was a slow pace – pedaling just fast enough to keep our bikes upright. Sobbing and screaming at me “WAIT FOR ME, MOMMY,” she fell over and skinned a knee and elbow. Maybe she wasn’t used to the new bike yet? Is she not strong enough to pedal rapidly? Is the bike too big for her? I was torn between guilt and frustration.
A week later, I took Lucy to a small park with a circular, flat walking/bike path to try again. This time, I was walking next to her, not riding ahead of her, and it was a different location. She wasn’t on her bike more than 10 minutes before she was frustrated again, refusing to pick up speed, and crying that she was going to fall over again. Was it the location, the bike, or her confidence?
Determined to figure out what was going on, I took her to another park a few days later. We spent a lot money on these bikes, so I wanted her to enjoy hers! Every kid should experience the pleasure of simple bike riding during the summer. It’s one of the few outdoor activities that I actually enjoy, and I was looking forward to family bike rides this summer.
I placed her bike on the path and watched her carefully from behind as she climbed on and began riding. Neither training wheel was securely on the ground or turning at the same speed as the rear tire. The bike was definitely unsteady. Just as Lucy was about to launch into yet another meltdown, I asked her if the wobble bothered her. I could rock it back and forth myself just using the handlebars. “Yes,” she sobbed. I remembered what the sales guy had boasted about where the training wheels are attached. Worldly wisdom, which teaches us to learn something as fast as you can so that you will be a step ahead of your peers and beat them to the next trend.
“We’re taking this bike to where we bought it so someone can fix it for you,” I told her. Later that day, I told the young mechanic at the bike shop what was happening. He studied the training wheels and said he could reposition them to a lower attachment point. Twenty minutes later he emerged with the bike. Crossing my fingers, I told Lucy to hop on.
She pedaled a little and suddenly a huge smile lit up her face. The angels sang. “I don’t feel like I’m going to fall over now!” she announced with glee. I told her to continue pedaling slowly down the smooth concrete aisle of the bike shop, just like trying on new shoes to make sure of a good fit. After that I told her to pedal outside the bike shop on the sidewalk. She kept going and going and that smile stayed.
Attaching the training wheels at a high point for intentional wobbliness on the bicycle might work for other children in learning balance and coordination, but not Lucy. In fact, it had the opposite effect. She might never have climbed on a bike again if I hadn’t requested the training wheel adjustment.
What is the harm in relying on training wheels for a while? I remember having a hard time learning to ride my bike at her age without training wheels. It took me a few days of practice. But so what?
It doesn’t matter how long it takes us to learn something new. What matters is that we persevere and remain consistent until we achieve whatever is our desired outcome. The most valuable learning processes cannot be rushed.
Why is fast learning is more valued than slow learning? Some employers don’t want to invest time in training their employees. Sadly, even educators in the public school system don’t want to invest the time and energy with students who are considered “slower” than the average learner. Faster is not always better.
What if training wheels are a blessing from the Lord as we learn, and not a reason for shame? Peter, James and John, Jesus’ three closest inner circle of disciples were on training wheels for three years as they watched Jesus, learned from him and developed wisdom. Jesus released his disciples from their training wheels after he ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit filled them.
The late and awesome Pastor Timothy Keller has some helpful suggestions to encourage us in the process of acquiring wisdom early in our lives, which is what the third chapter of Proverbs teaches, because it takes years to produce. In “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life,” (2017) he explains that we will need extended periods of time to develop wisdom. No wisdom express lane. Training wheels are highly recommended and appreciated during this process. There is no shame in learning slowly here.
Tell me, friend, how much time are you devoting to developing wisdom? You can get a sense of this process by assessing how much planned time you give, first to Bible study, and second, personal accountability to other Christians.
As for me, I will proudly ride my training wheels for years so that I can grow in wisdom and faith. When I am ready to apply self-control and discernment in a crisis and able to rest in Christ when other comforts are removed, I will no longer need my training wheels either. Until then, I will appreciate the blessing and enjoy the journey.
Thank you that you are patient with us as we learn and grow in wisdom. Help us be patient with ourselves and others as we are learning new skills or helping others learn new skills. Help us remember that sometimes perseverance is more important than speed.