The Obstacle Course

by Andy Wood on April 19, 2013

in Ability, Five LV Laws, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Increase, Turning Points, Waiting

obstacle courseSecond period was blue.  Dark blue.  That was the color of our gym shorts in seventh grade.  Well, at least for those who sailed down the steps at Azalea Road Junior High to greet the red shorts brigade who was returning from Coach Crenshaw and Coach Perkins’ gym class.

Always anxious for coming attractions, we’d ask the boys from first period, “What are we doing?”  Sometimes it was something awesome like battle ball or football.  Sometimes it was something exotic like gymnastics.  But one thing was sure to send a chill up my adolescent spine:

The Obstacle Course.

I should probably mention here that my athletic ability was legendary.  In my own mind.  But running headlong into a class of 60 or so peers left little doubt that my gateway to glory wasn’t through athletics.

And if there was any doubt – if there was any shred of athletic dignity left in me – the Obstacle Course loomed as a reminder of the inglories that awaited.

To be honest, most of the OC was pretty benign.  There were hurdles to leap over, some to crawl under, narrow poles to traverse, a bar to do some pull-ups on (or to try to do pull-ups on).  Then another set of poles to run down.

Then we would round the backstop and there it loomed in front of us… The Wall.  This wasn’t one of those Marine-type walls that had knotted ropes to use for leverage.  This was just a six- or seven-foot wooden wall that we were supposed to swing a leg over and come down on the other side.

Did I mention that I wasn’t much of an athlete?

And I hated the wall.  I loathed The Wall.

I was humiliated by The Wall.

95% of the guys in my class could scale The Wall with little-to-no effort.  A couple of smart-alecks would come back around and do it again just for fun.  But there I would be, with about a half-dozen other losers who couldn’t figure out for the life of us how to get over the wall.

People shouted encouragement.  People shouted advice.  A couple hopped up and showed us how they did it.  Nothing worked.  Plenty more made us the butt of their jokes and ridicule.  Hey, I said it was seventh grade.  It comes with the territory.

I remember lying awake on Thursday nights (OC was on Fridays), trying to conjure up some strategy to cheat The Wall, take advantage of some crack in The Wall, do something to outsmart The Wall.  But then Friday would come, and there I’d be with the second period losers, looking like awkward fools trying to scale the wall.

That entire year passed in futility and humiliation.  I never did conquer that beast.  I was beaten by The Wall.

In eighth grade it happened all over again.  We rushed to the dressing room, checking out with our friends from the previous class what the day’s activities were.  Inevitably, the chilling news came.  Today, it’s the Obstacle Course.

Here we go again.

Over the hurdles, under the low bar, across the rails, up the pull-up bar, down the balance pole, around the backstop, and there it was, waiting with its evil presence.

Sigh.  Oh well.  Here goes nothing.

I reached up, grabbed the top, swung a leg over, and sailed down the other side.  Not one bit of hesitation.  Not one bit of humiliation.

Then, of course, the main task was to act like this was old news.  Of course I cleared The Wall!  Doesn’t everybody?  So there I sat on the hillside grass, watching this year’s batch of losers, trying to look cool on the outside, while feeling like a raving fanatic on the inside.

There never was any official explanation.  Maybe I was a little taller.  Maybe a little stronger.  Maybe something just clicked mentally.  I don’t know.  But I never had a problem with The Wall again.

There is a point to all this.  You may be facing something that fills you with the same kind of shame and humiliation or sense of futility as I did with The Wall.  Everybody else’s strategies, instructions, or even encouragements don’t seem to make any difference whatsoever.  Everybody else seems to get it.  A precious few others may struggle with something similar, but inside you feel completely alone, a loser.

You strategize.  Nothing.

You look for a shortcut or cheat.  Forget it.

You pray for a rainout!  Doesn’t happen.

It’s just you and The Wall, and everybody on the planet seems to be watching.

Time passes.  Then one day, for no reason, you confront the exact same wall, and it’s as if somebody parted the Red Sea just for you.  It’s easy.  Effortless.  Sorta makes you wonder what the big deal was about.  And the only explanation for it is time.  Or maybe a little growth from you.

Maybe you have yet to see that.  Maybe you’re still looking at that evil obstacle, and you’re out of answers.  It seems to work just fine for everybody else, but you’re the weirdo.  The loser.  The geek.

You realize, of course, that in your case I’m not talking about a seven-foot wooden wall.  I’m talking about raising your kids.  Finishing your degree.  Learning a new skill.  Getting out of debt.  Making yourself hirable.  Overcoming an addiction.  Finding your voice to confront a bully.  Finding the courage to make a new friend.

I want to encourage you, as best as I know how.  You’re never going to change the size of The Wall.  But you can change the size of your ability to face it.

You can change the size of your heart.

You can change the strength of your spirit.

You can’t shrink the wall, but you can grow yourself into it.

So give yourself (and God!) time.  And whatever you do, thank God for The Obstacle Course.  Sometimes it’s the only way you have to keep score on the development of your character and strength.


It was a Saturday, the summer after my ninth-grade year.  I mounted my trusty 10-speed steed and proceeded to conquer the neighborhoods between my house and school.  I rode by my old Junior High, sitting quietly and abandoned in the summer sun.  And there, looming on the edge of the athletic field, was that old, obnoxious wall.  With no one watching but God, I reached up, grabbed the top, swung my right leg over, and for a while just sat on top of it and watched the world go by.

I felt like the king of the world.

Even if nobody was there to see it.

One day… you will, too.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Martha Orlando April 19, 2013 at 10:34 am

Once again, Andy, a simply superb analogy! We all have those “walls” from time to time in our lives. Thanks for showing us we can overcome them. Blessings!
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..Good Amidst Evil

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