“Push Me, Pull You,” New Era, May 2001, 32
I never thought I would love a mountain. But I’ve grown to love the mountain overlooking Brigham Young University. My roommate, Josh, suggested we run the face of Y Mountain for exercise. The idea seemed a little ambitious, but we had been friends since high school, and I was not about to turn down his challenge.
At 6:00 A.M. Josh and I stumbled out of our beds, tired, groggy, and a little unsure of exactly what lay ahead of us. The trail to the top includes 11 switchbacks; sometime after the second, your body wants to go into shock—muscles cramp, lungs nearly collapse—and the steepest part of the trail is still to come.
To say the first time up the mountain was hard is an understatement. It was the cruelest form of punishment—slow and deliberate. We were not as fit as we had thought. We ran as fast as we could and then, when we could take no more, we stopped to rest. Slowly we made our way to the top.
The first few times, Josh and I stuck together. But after a few times up the mountain, it became a competition. Josh pulled ahead, and I doubled my efforts to keep up. Josh ran until he was tired, and I ran until Josh stopped. No matter how hard I tried, he beat me to the top every time, not by much, but he still beat me.
I tried harder, but I still couldn’t get closer. Josh continued to run until he was tired. But when he stopped, I pushed myself to keep running and try to narrow the gap. My time improved, but I was not satisfied because I had never won.
Once, after struggling and sweating my way up the mountain, I caught up to Josh. I asked him to slow down so I could stop and catch my breath. He replied that he could not slow down because if he did, “there would not be anyone to push you to become better.” Although I doubt his motives were altruistic, there is truth in what he said.
The steepest and hardest part was at the end. I was always exhausted by the time I reached the last switchback. It did not matter how fast I ran; Josh, as usual, was ahead of me. Still, I tried to keep the gap between us narrow even as the trail got harder. Josh ran just as hard to keep the gap wide.
Hard work and discipline were rewarded at the finish line. I could finally stop and rest. But often as I came over the hill, with the finish line in sight, I saw Josh scaling farther up the mountain. And I felt compelled to follow. When I finally caught up to him, I mentioned that it is perfectly acceptable to stop at the finish line. His reply was always, “You have to keep pushing yourself.”
After another running experience, I apologized to Josh for slowing him down. He replied, “You didn’t. You kept me going.” While his reply was not totally unexpected, the lesson I learned was. It was then that the “push and pull” of Y Mountain began to sink in. All this time I had thought that Josh had been pulling me up the mountain by refusing to let me stop and rest. But I realized that in my stretching and straining up the mountain, I had pushed him as well.
Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “You have felt a tug, maybe many tugs, to be someone better. And what sets those yearnings apart from all your daydreams is that they were not about being richer, or smarter, or more attractive, but about being better” (To Draw Closer to God, 45).
Sometimes those tugs come from parents, teachers, or even a roommate and friend. Whatever their source, as we heed them, we become better.
“Everyone needs good friends. Your circle of friends will greatly influence your thinking and behavior, just as you will theirs. When you share common values with your friends, you can strengthen and encourage each other” (For the Strength of Youth, 9). Such strength and encouragement are part of the push and pull of friendship.
It is vital we choose friends whose words, actions, and examples will not only push and pull us up the mountain but farther along the straight and narrow path.
“The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that ‘friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism.’ That thought ought to inspire and motivate all of us because I feel that friendship is a fundamental need of our world. I think in all of us there is a profound longing for friendship, a deep yearning for the satisfaction and security that close and lasting relationships can give. Perhaps one reason the scriptures make little specific mention of the principle of friendship is because it should be manifest quite naturally as we live the gospel. In fact, if the consummate Christian attribute of charity has a first cousin, it is friendship” (Ensign, May 1999, 64).
—Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy