Hitting the Wall

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "Hitting the Wall" in the book A Return to Virtue.)

There is a phenomenon that occurs in some, if not most, runners who participate in a marathon. It is called “hitting the wall.” It is caused when runners use up all of their physical reserves, and their bodies have run out of the carbohydrates needed to sustain intense physical activities like long-distance running.

I have experienced this kind of fatigue myself: a sudden, overwhelming sense of “I can’t do this” that feels, literally, like I have run into a wall and have to stop. For me, it usually occurs at the mile that marks three times my daily training average.

When you hit the wall, it is helpful to have someone encouraging you and helping you to mentally overcome this physical sensation. And you will probably cross the finish line on sheer mental willpower—which, interestingly enough, makes your finish just that much more thrilling and victorious.

Hitting the wall is real, and the concept applies not just to marathon running but to some of the situations we all experience in life. Sometimes we come up against a circumstance or an event that just makes us want to give up and stop. What we do when that happens will greatly affect our success in our life’s race.

When my mother, Emma Martin, was in her teens, she hit an unanticipated wall. Her mother—my Grandmother Martin—suffered a series of strokes that left her paralyzed and unable to speak. My mother assumed her mother’s role of cooking, cleaning, and caring for her father and her three brothers, along with attending school. She also cared lovingly for her mother each day.

This situation must have been very difficult, and the additional responsibilities she had to assume at such an early age must have been hard to bear. But I am told that my mother never complained and was patient and kind to her mother, father, and brothers. She did not let her circumstances discourage her or excuse her from achieving her goals and dreams. In fact, she continued to attend school and gain further education. When she graduated from high school, she was given an award for never having missed a day of school in twelve years. She had also earned the highest grades possible in all her classes.

After her graduation, my mother attended college in a city several miles away. Each weekend she would return home to care for her mother. She would change the beds, do the washing, clean the house, and prepare meals for the week for her family, and then return to school on Monday morning. When she met and married my father, they moved into her parents’ home so that she could continue to care for her parents. I was raised in that home and still carry with me the memories of my mother’s service and sacrifice. My life has been richly blessed because of her example.

Because of my mother’s attitude, I always thought it was a privilege to live with my grandparents. I came to know them in a way I could never have otherwise. I loved my Grandmother Martin dearly, and even though she could not speak, I knew she loved me by the look in her eyes. I learned how to read on her lap. She was always there and was never too busy to listen to me. Her attitude was one of cheer and optimism. She was grateful for the smallest things. She loved it when I helped her walk around the living room, and she loved to go for a ride in the car. She blessed my life as a young child and as an adult.

Both my mother and my grandmother were talented, educated, capable women. I am sure this was not what my grandmother had envisioned for her life, nor was it what my mother had in mind for her life.

Life’s journey sometimes takes us on unexpected paths. There are twists and turns in the road that none of us can anticipate. But with each of these twists and turns there is also opportunity—opportunity to choose our response and our plan of action. Difficulties in life can be insurmountable walls—or they can be opportunities to help us draw closer to the Savior and to trust in Him more fully. In the process of living close to Him each day, we develop Christlike attributes and qualities.

For me, my mother and grandmother are modern-day examples of the virtues and qualities that women in earlier dispensations developed as they exercised their dedication to the Lord.

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