I learned that this week, when my companion and I got bikes. The past missionaries in this area have thought that it was too hilly to bike, so this has been a walking area for a long time. However, in the interest of saving our time and our feet, we payed a deposit to the mission and got some old street bikes. In retrospect, we realize that there was some credit to what the past missionaries have said about the hills. There are definitely a lot of them. However, we're powering on! Even when it means going painfully slow up Glassman Way, or dodging traffic on 36th Avenue, or worst of all, showing up to our appointments hot and sweaty.
I learned something though, last Saturday night as we were biking up the hill to our house: it gets easier every time.
Not just the uphills, but the downhills and the flats as well. As I build muscle and learn how to use the gears most effectively, I can tackle the tough hills with less and less trouble. As I gain confidence, I am able to let myself gain more and more speed on the downhills without fearing for my life. As I improve my balance, I am able to impress the local children on the flat stretches by waving at them with both hands, letting my bike steer itself (usually in a strait line).
As I pondered on my short biking experiences, I was struck by the symbolism of biking uphills becoming easier and easier.
In our lives, we have times when we can cruise down hills, picking up speed and enjoying the ride. During these times, we are still working to fulfill our responsibilities, but for one reason or another we face minimal challenges and make a lot of headway. Other times our lives are like the flat roads, where every rotation of our pedals seems to move us forward in leaps and bounds. We are in a pattern of living where our every effort is rewarding and satisfactory.
Then, we have our uphill climbs. These challenges can feel insurmountable, especially in the heat of the moment. They can be physical, such as a debilitating illness. They can be emotional, like a bout of depression. Perhaps they are mental, as we struggle in school or our careers. Often they are spiritual, the days when we wonder if there is any purpose to our life choices, or doubt or self worth in the eternal scheme of things.
Whatever forms these challenges take, they will always be there. No matter what. There is no degree of wealth, fame, wisdom, love, spirituality, or expertise that can exempt us from challenges, just the way that even the strongest bikers still have to go up hills.
There's something neat about hills though: they make us stronger. If you bike up the same hill each night to get back to your house (like I do), it gets easier and easier over time. If you were training for a professional mountain biking race and had to climb up a specific mountainous trail, you would probably strategically bike up bigger and bigger hills each week until you hit your goals.
In our lives, God acts as the perfect coach. He motivates and encourages us as we pass over bigger and bigger hills. His goal is not necessarily to make us travel a certain number of miles, but to help us become the strongest bikers we can be. He doesn't have personal quotas of how many trials we each must pass through, but He seeks for each of us to reach our highest potential as disciples of Jesus Christ.
As we overcome these trials, they become less burdensome to us. Do you remember how frustrated you were as a child as you first learned how to tie your shoes? Now you can probably do it with your eyes closed! Do you remember how a cancelled play date was once the end of the world? Now you deal with a range of disappointments maturely and optimistically. This pattern continues throughout life as we bike over bigger and bigger hills.
God, however, does not force us to comply with his training regiment. This brings us back to that first point: you can lose your biking muscles.
Every good decision we make increases our ability to make good decisions in the future; we develop our muscles. Every bad decision we make decreases our ability to make good decisions in the future; our muscles atrophy. It is that simple! Our willpower is constantly waxing and waning as we either use or neglect it. On the downhills, and even on the flat stretches, the difference is not as noticeable. It is hard to test your muscles in those instances. On the uphills, however, it becomes painfully apparent what you are made of. All of your preparations, or lack there of, either reward or punish you.
Most people can be good when life is good to them, but that is not what life is about. Our life is about being good regardless of how the world around us is behaving. We must push through our challenges without changing who we are, emerging victorious on the other side. In biking terms, we must press on when we are tired. If we have to slow down, that is alright. We simply cannot stop and turn around.
My friends, I know that life is not easy. Many of you have had experiences more difficult and painful than I can understand. But there is one who does understand, and that is our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is He that asks us to keep pedaling forward.
I would like to end with the words of the Book of Mormon prophet Omni:
"And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved."
The Lord asks us to Endure to the End, meaning keep pressing on throughout your life. Even with His help, that is not an easy thing. But with His help, it will always be possible.
So pedal on, and never give up.