On a trip to Vermont, I found myself asking, “Am I having joy in this journey?” Do you ever find yourself frustrated because life is not working out the way YOU want, or maybe the path you are on seems TOO hard? Sometimes the questions might lead us to wonder why. While reflecting on my trip to Vermont, I discovered some interesting things about my “why.”
We had signed up for tandem bike tour almost a year prior. We love to travel and were excited for the first trip with our tandem. For months we prepared for the anticipated 238 miles and 14,450 feet of elevation over the five-day trip. Our training consisted of long bike rides, monitoring our diet, and collecting the gear needed for extended rides.
The Hills of Vermont
Anyone 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. Realizing if we were to stop pushing up some of these hills, our bike would naturally start to roll back down. Sometimes all we could do was look ahead and focus on the next road sign to keep our motion moving forward.
On our second day of riding, we had a significant ascent of almost 1,200 feet of elevation spanning 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 – 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 the next 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 an inner strength. I felt motivated to keep moving.
My experience pushing our 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 catchphrase to help as they faced difficult obstacles in their journey. I loved this idea so much I quickly adopted it as my reminder to my kids for times when life seemed 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.”
My problems with facing each new hill in Vermont was no different from the struggles of my children. We all face difficult times in our life. Much like our uphill push on our bike we have to keep moving forward to get past them to where we need 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 back.
Tapping Into Inner Strength
A catchy little phrase is a great reminder to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but what does it mean to keep swimming – or pedaling – up the monumental hill of life? Within each of us is an inner strength, and tapping into that power is key to pushing through life’s trials. As I searched for strength to push the pedal another rotation, I found my focus was what motivated me to keep moving.
Where is our focus when the obstacles of life seem almost too much to bear?
The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.” -Russell M. Nelson
The circumstances in which we find ourselves can be overwhelming if we are only thinking about the negative. In my darkest times of terrible turmoil, my focus has been on what is wrong with my situation. This type of perspective can be crushing.
Our Focus, Our Joy, Our Journey
Christ is referred to as a light to the world. He can illuminate the deepest pit of despair, but only if we turn to him for help. 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 an increased ability to endure.
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.” (Mosiah 2:4, emphasis added)
Holding out means pushing up the hill. It means to keep swimming. We are here not to endure life’s challenges but to endure them well, to find joy in the face of difficult challenges. But what about the times we endure and still don’t get what we want. What about our plan, our timeline, and our wants?
The beautiful thing about our bike journey is we didn’t know where it would lead us. We had to trust in the ability of our guides and their perspective. They had carefully planned the best routes, with the most breathtaking scenery. We signed up for the tour knowing it would be hard but worth it.
Similarly, we choose to come to earth for an incredible journey. We didn’t know where it would lead, or how we would grow, but we trusted God’s ability and perspective. Knowing he had carefully planned the best routes, with the most spectacular opportunities to flourish. We committed to coming because we trusted it would be worth it.
To those who are questioning whether they can trust God’s promise, consider this:
What would it hurt if you kept moving forward as if you DID trust God? How would it feel to give up “control” to sit back and find joy in the ride? I’ve found trusting is better than trying to do it on my own. Sure, there is a little fear in what we don’t know, but trusting in my abilities alone is limiting. So instead of asking WHY trust God when I can’t see any of the immediate rewards, I ask myself, Why not?
God didn’t design us to be sad. He created us to have JOY!” -Dieter F. Uchtdorf
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.