Overcoming the hurdles

I write this as the world is getting ready for the 2012 Olympics in London. Contestants know perfectly well their weaknesses: carelessness at the time of practicing some specific exercises that seemed unnecessary at first sight, improper stretching techniques, a lack of concentration, irregular eating patterns, a desire for taking a break for any possible excuse, and so forth. Everyone knows his or her own weaknesses. Some fight and overcome them; others simply disguise them. Either way, each has personal “hurdles.”

Speaking of hurdles, hurdling as a sport really appeals to me. The sprinter needs to jump over every hurdle with utmost precision, since even brushing one of the hurdles is detrimental to his or her performance. On the other hand, jumping too high makes the runner lose precious tenths of seconds and energy. Contestants need an absolute and perfect command of many different muscles in order to leave behind, one after the other, the hurdles placed between the starting and finishing lines. It is an exploit that makes good use not only of the runners’ legs, but also every body part involved to successfully accomplish the feat.

Student life is very similar to hurdle racing. In my own life I also faced hurdles, even though I have already finished my academic training. Unlike in hurdling, however, our life hurdles are neither the same size nor are painted in bright colors so as to be seen from afar. Our hurdles are those things that in the race of life make us stumble or hesitate. Some people even prefer stopping in their tracks rather than trying to jump over their hurdles; they just get paralyzed, as if hurdles were actually closed doors.

But we should never make a locked door out of a hurdle. The latter tries our resilience and challenges us to find ways of going over it. Unlike the closed door, however, the hurdle never reaches the ceiling and is not locked. A hurdle is just a hurdle. It still allows for the essential space necessary to jump over it.

In the life of a student, a hurdle can refer to a difficult or unattractive topic, classes or an exam on the Sabbath, a professor whose explanations are difficult to follow, or a teacher whose grading method leaves a lot to be desired. It can also be unexpected family problems, lack of interest, a limited tolerance of frustrations, and even physiological infirmities more related to the chemistry of our bodies. The list is endless, and every student has “a custom-made hurdle.” What is for one a torturous hurdle may be for another a small bump on the road that can be overcome easily. Regardless, hurdles are certainly along the road for everyone to face.

But it is reassuring to remember that hurdles can be jumped over. Only “locked doors” can block the way toward going forward, and life has far more hurdles than doors.

Even more reassuring is to know that we are not left alone to overcome hurdles. God is on our side — to strengthen, to enable, to overcome, and to move forward. The key question in life is not whether a hurdle along the way will be overcome, but whether we have God’s power, which enables us to be overcomers, hurdle-jumpers. If we do, we can have full assurance that God will never forsake us when we face our hurdles along the way.

No student cherishes only easy and pleasant memories from the times he or she hurdled through academic goals. The path has been always winding, with ups and downs, steep and exhausting slopes, small and big obstacles. Just as athletes reflect on the best strategy to overcome their hurdles and combine different elements to be successful, we can also reflect on various tools to help us to be successful in our own careers. Here are some essentials for you to reflect on; add any others that you think could apply to your particular situation.

Do not mistake a hurdle for a door. When facing a hurdle, do not give up until you get clear signs that God is showing you a closed door because He has chosen a different path for you.

Single out the hurdles you yourself have placed in your way. Whether they be bad attitudes, harmful habits, weaknesses in your character or any other trait that depends exclusively on you, remember that with God’s help, you can change for the better and be successful.

Examine ways of overcoming the hurdle. Do not settle for the first solution that comes to your mind. That may not be the most effective or pertinent one. Spend time in prayer asking God to bestow His wisdom on you, so you may be able to find alternatives and choose the ones which might account for better outcomes (even if they demand a lot of effort and perseverance on your part).

Make an action plan. It is not enough just to dissect the situation; you must put the idea into concrete action. Depending on how “high” or how “wide” a specific hurdle is, you may be able to jump over it in an instant or you may have to face it repeatedly for weeks or even months. Only God can supply you with the stamina and persistence you need to make your plan become a reality.

Now, did you notice any common factors in the list above? I can see two elements: you and God. Every one of the principles mentioned involves you, through the abilities that God has given you to analyze, draw up plans, and fight. But the most important element in this race is that on your side you have God as your “trainer.” There is no better way of overcoming your hurdles.

In the Olympic race of life, let Paul’s words be our resolution: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7, NKJV), and let our focus be on the great promise: “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NKJV).

— Susana Schulz

Susana Schulz is the managing editor of Dialogue and has a master’s degree in counseling and guidance (Loma Linda University, California).