How to Ride A Bike: What Triplet Four-Year-Olds Taught Me About Anxiety

By Christopher Faris | April 18, 2020

Last week one of my daughters learned how to ride a bike. She skipped her training wheels and went straight to two wheels after a few months of perfecting the balance bike. She is only four years old, and she made her two sisters (they’re triplets) jealous almost immediately. As she rode down the street with a grin a mile wide on her face, we made eye contact. She yelled, “I’m CRUSHIN’ it, Daddy!” As a matter of fact, she was absolutely crushing it.

Learning to ride a bike is a big deal for a kid because it’s scary to learn something new. You have to learn how to have balance and pedal and acclimate to a new form of motion. You also have to plan to fall a handful of times. When you’re four, the potential pain from scraping or bruising a limb from a bike fall can be a bit terrifying.

For some, trying a new thing can be scary because it’s an encounter with an unknown. It’s not unusual to have a sense of powerlessness. For others, doing new things is exciting – instead of a fear response, many are instead curious and motivated to discover and explore something new. Isn’t it strange that when two people encounter the same unknown they can have a different response to it? It implies something: Things don’t always “make” us anxious. My view of what those things are is what causes the anxiety. It’s been said that anxiety is about an overestimation of danger and an underestimation of our own personal resources to handle said danger.

The unknown is powerful and it begs our exploration and discovery to make it known. The unknown is also at the root of anxiety for many of us. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), 19% of Americans have an anxiety disorder. When you add the unknowns our culture is swimming through right now due to COVID-19, those unknowns can exacerbate any anxiety we already have like a steroid injection. So what can you do about it?

Neurologist/psychologist Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Frankl wrote these words in response to being held in Auschwitz, where his wife and children died. I often think of this quote when managing my own anxiety. The “stimulus” is our way to grapple with the unknown: “When will we find a vaccine? How will things work out financially? Above all, will my family and I be safe?” These are all questions we may not have answers to right now. But as a people who call Jesus Lord, we trust that nothing is unknown to Him.

Jesus addresses worry in Luke 12:22-34. In verse 25, He challenges anxiety by looking at its pragmatics: “And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” In other words, does ruminating on all that can go wrong make your situation better? If between stimulus and action is space, what thoughts presently fill that space? What might happen when you choose different ones, such as what you are grateful for, what you can enjoy today and how you can make things better for others?

I imagine that if my daughters focused on all that could go wrong when they rode their bikes, they’d never ride. “What if I lose my balance, bump into a curb, or crash onto the pavement?” By ruminating on the negative, they may not realize their ability to learn to ride, overcome a fall, or the joys of a family ride down to the Orange circle to get ice cream (which I estimate is only weeks away). Those positives far outweigh the estimated dangers.

You have that choice too. Will you think about what you have, as opposed to what you don’t? Will you focus on your ability to overcome obstacles (much like the ones in your past which you’ve already overcome)? Will you find something to be grateful for today? Between stimulus and action is space. You choose what to fill that space with.

So get up on your bike – it’s time to go for a ride.

Oh, and P.S. Since last week, the other two girls also learned how to ride a bike!