We recently spent a week “tandeming” our way across Vermont. Anyone that is familiar with the Vermont landscape knows they have hills – steep, rolling hills; beautiful, but steep. As the week passed, climbing any one of the 12%+ grade roads became more and more of a chore for my sore and tired muscles. I noticed the pull of gravity in a whole new way as I realized that if we were to stop pushing up we would start to roll back. Sometimes all we could do was look ahead and focus on the next road sign to keep our motion moving forward.
My experience pushing my way through the hills of Vermont reminded me of an article I read years ago entitled “Enduring Well” by J. Christopher Lansing. In it, Lansing refers to the animated film Finding Nemo and the loveable character Dory whose message to her friend is to “Keep Swimming.” This idiom became his family’s catch phrase to help as they faced difficult obstacles in their life. I loved this idea so much that I quickly adopted it as my own reminder for when life gets a little hard. At the time my daughters were in high school and entering college and it became one of the last things I called out to them as they left for school in the morning; eventually, it became part of my email signature line too: “Love you TONS and Keep Swimming.”
We all face difficult times in our life. Much like our uphill push on our bike we have to keep moving forward to get through them and to where we want to go. Sometimes it seems like it might just be easier to stop where we are, but life’s laws of gravity do not work that way. If we are not moving forward we start rolling backward.
A catchy little phrase is a great reminder to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but what does it really mean to keep swimming – or pedaling – up that monumental hill of life? Within each of us is an inner strength, and tapping into that power is the key to pushing through life’s trials. As I searched for strength to push the pedal another rotation I found that my focus was what motivated me to keep moving.
On our second day of riding, we had a major ascent of almost 1,200 feet of elevation that spanned over 5 miles. To put that into perspective the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet tall (not including the spire).
At first, my focus was on the pain – in my quads, my chest, my back. We pulled over to stop, catch our breath, and get a drink; but to start up again we had to traverse across the road instead of continuing at the same degree we had been at – kind of a running start that ended up exerting more energy than if we had just kept our same slow pace. After several stops, my husband started directing my focus to the next road sign ahead. “Let’s pedal to that sign before we stop again.” By the time we reached that sign I felt like I could keep going, so we did. By shifting my focus away from the pain I was feeling and toward what was ahead on the road I felt myself tap into that inner strength. I felt motivated to keep moving.
After several stops, my husband started directing my focus to the next road sign ahead. “Let’s pedal to that sign before we stop again.” By the time we reached that sign I felt like I could keep going, so we did. By shifting my focus away from the pain I was feeling and toward what was ahead on the road I felt myself tap into that inner strength. I felt motivated to keep moving.
Where is our focus when the obstacles of life seem almost too much to bear? Russell M. Nelson said: “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.” The circumstances in which we find ourselves can be overwhelming if that is all that we are thinking about. In my darkest times of terrible turmoil, my focus has been on all that is wrong with my situation and that perspective can be overpowering. The light of Christ can illuminate the deepest pit of despair. Interestingly, a synonym for the word dark is joyless. When my focus is on the Savior I feel joy. When I am striving to be the best I can be, despite what might be wrong in my life, I feel empowered with greater abilities to endure.
Mosiah 2:4 of The Book of Mormon says:
“And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.” (emphasis added)
Holding out means pushing up that hill; it means to keep swimming and not just endure life’s challenges but endure them well. After ascending the steepest hill of my short biking career we were able to enjoy the sheer pleasure of the ride down. The reward for holding out faithful will be greater than any downhill incentive. Never-ending happiness and joy are promised to those that keep swimming and push through this mortal life with a determined focus on our Savior – Jesus Christ.
Lansing, J. Christopher. “Enduring Well.” Ensign, January 2014. https://www.lds.org/ensign/2014/01/young-adults/enduring-well?lang=eng
Nelson, Russel M. “Joy and Spiritual Survival.” Conference Report, October 2016. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/10/media/session_4_talk_4/5151884835001?lang=eng