Blue Bicycles and the Greater Gifts

‘Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.’ (Romans 12)

‘Bicycle’ (photo: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock)

“As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace... in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

I was about 9 years old when my dad surprised me with a bicycle. It was a pretty little Italian-made number, with the brand name “Pico Chico” decaled on its tubes. Dad had hoped that ownership of the “Pico” would entice me into learning to ride a bike. Indeed, under Dad’s tutelage, I valiantly struggled day after day to keep my graceless form upright on the wobbling bicycle. But, by the time it had become obvious that I was velocipedally challenged, the interest I’d had in mastering the bike had dwindled to nothing. Disappointed and not a little bit hurt, Dad stored the Pico in a dark corner of the tool shed. Good riddance! I thought.

But time heals all wounds, including scraped elbows, cut knees, and the humiliation of falling off a bike in front of your Schwinn-savvy peers. So at age 15, I decided that (1) I had to have a bicycle and (2) I would subjugate said bicycle to my will. My newfound resolve was fed by the promise of toned thighs and fetchingly wind-blown hair, plus an unrealistic fantasy of a tandem bike ride with Mr. Right. That year, when December came around, I told gift-buying family members that what I really wanted for Christmas was a bicycle.

On Christmas morning, I was the first one downstairs. Because our family tradition is that Christmas tree lights remain lit throughout the night before Christmas, I spotted a reflected gleam on steel even before I reached the stairway landing. Yes, it was a bicycle, a beautiful bright blue bicycle — and it was mine! Sure, there were other gifts, and lots of them — record albums, clothes, a rotating lamp with smiley faces on its shade — but I kept going back to admire my bike. I could hardly wait to share my excitement with my two brothers.

“Joe!” I cried as my older brother finally slouched sleepily down the stairs and into the room. “Joe, look! I got a bike!”

Joe’s bleary-eyed look of startlement quickly changed to sympathy.

“That bike’s not for you,” he said gently. “It’s for Dad.”

It was true: My mom had thoughtfully bought the bicycle for my dad, who as a teen had enjoyed cycling in his Italian hometown. She also had thoughtlessly not bothered to tag it.

The gift that I had wanted for myself belonged to someone else. 

It’s been almost half a century since that not-quite-merry Christmas. These days, it hardly matters what’s under my Christmas tree. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes find myself coveting gifts of a different kind. 

Just last week, I was in a Zoom meeting with a group of women who are involved in event-planning for the diocese. Listening to those women discuss plans for the coming year, I was — for the hundredth time — awed by their unique gifts. It was wonderful to see each woman using her talents in God’s service. My first reaction was, “Wow!” My second reaction was, “How come she’s able to do that and I’m not?”

But St. Paul says, “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:4-6).

Each of us has exactly what he needs for the purpose of fulfilling God’s will and ultimately attaining heaven. There’s no reason to be wishing for a shiny blue bicycle: The gifts that God has given us, if used for his glory, will be our sure means of transport to eternal life. 

“Now there are varieties of gifts. …To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:4, 7, 11).