I think most of us, including me, summarize perseverance by the simple mantra: “Don’t give up!” Perseverance is often measured by years, the amount of time invested, the number of sick days not taken.
But I think “not-giving-up” can become an easy front. Plenty of people show up to work for years, to their churches and marriages and children for decades, and can look like they’re reliable.
Except inside, they’re not there.
Plenty of us can quit without physically quitting. We can live this way for years, thinking that “showing up” is enough and we can skate by on the bare minimum.
In other words, perseverance is not just staying in, but being in. It’s being present and engaged.
It’s not that we don’t have it in us to persevere. It’s that all of us wasn’t in the task at hand. Even a person who gets to the finish-line, who didn’t put their all into it, hasn’t really persevered.
I do this, too. I can be there but not there. And I’m learning that being disengaged begins with my expectations.
When our plans don’t turn out the way we want to, we tend to check out. Disengagement is a way of protecting ourselves from disappointment.
This isn’t to judge anyone, because perseverance is hard. But I think it’s made harder because of the way we’ve been trained. Some of us have bought into an overly romanticized narrative. We get excited and inspired to do stuff, but the second we do stuff, it’s nothing like those first emotions that got us there.
Here’s what I mean. I get really inspired to do something new, to do something better, especially after a great sermon or a TEDTalk or a slideshow of a nonprofit charity that makes me want to throw away my Jordans.
I think, This is what I need, a kick in the pants. No more “lazy days,” no more social-media-traps, no more waking up in time for dinner. This is it. I’m going to be all I wanted to be.
But I get bogged down.
The actual work, the sweat, the investment, is a little plodding. My hyper-expectations of everyday high-fives turns into drudgery and paperwork.
Getting to our goals is a lot of standing around, waiting in line, getting forms in order, and hustling transparently with the right people.
No one ever told me, “Emotions are different than passion. Emotions are the little spark that gets it going. Passion is what keeps you running the marathon, even when it gets boring, even when things don’t go your way, even when the path takes a bunch of detours and it’s not as pretty as the picture in your head.”
I think most people—including me—internally give up because we didn’t expect the gritty in-between. The limbo. The wait. We expected results, the eight minute abs, the five-hundred people in an auditorium, the book deal and music contract and bestseller and viral hit, all in a quick sprint. No one likes the seed-planting and watering the soil and tending to the field. But that in-between stuff is where the magic happens. If you can be passionate about the seeds, you can be trusted with the fruits and flowers.
I think we could have better marriages and parenting and leading and art if we were engaged without results, examples with no one looking, and excited about the actual work. This requires a kind of truthful authenticity with ourselves, to do the thing we’re called to do when there’s a risk that it might fail, but we can do it anyway, because that’s the kind of people we are.
As a Christian, I happen to believe that God makes us this kind of person, because He’s that kind of God. A relationship with Him is without an agenda, purely for the beauty of Him in Himself, and He perseveres after us even when we don’t turn out the way He wants us to. Which to me, is crazy and counter-intuitive to everything I know about everyone. But God doesn’t check out, ever. I’m certain I’ve disappointed Him, but He’s still there, patient and engaged and all in. That means I’m to be all there, too, with my marriage and my work and with people, with all the grace I’ve been given.
No, perseverance doesn’t guarantee the results you want. It won’t guarantee a good marriage or job or children. It only guarantees you become a persevering type of person. That’s how we do it with godliness. It isn’t in the reward. The reward is who you become.
A quick final story. I once lived in an apartment building where I could hear the mother next door raising her kids, and she would play this Barney tape every day. You know the song: “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family,” over and over and over. One day, I thought I heard this mother sigh. Like a really long, exasperated sigh. And suddenly I wanted to tell this lady, “Don’t do it! Don’t run from your kids! Don’t move to Vegas and find some rich dude and become some gangster moll!” She was probably not in danger of doing any of this, and no one says “gangster moll” anymore. But I was worried. Maybe she was checking out. Maybe she felt she was missing another life. Maybe she needed a vacation, too. I had half a mind to go next door and bring a cake or something, but I’d imagine that would be alarming (“I’m the Asian guy next door, also here’s a cake I attempted to bake. Don’t mind my creeper face.”). Thinking back, I probably should’ve encouraged her somehow. To at least tell her, “It’s pretty hard, right?” Because preparation and expectations are half the battle. Perseverance is really hard, but it’s not so bad if you know what you’re in for, and if you know that you’re not alone.
About the Author:
J.S. Park is a pastor, former atheist, fifth degree black belt, hospital chaplain, recovered porn addict, intense introvert, and loves Jesus. He has a B.A. in Psychology from USF and a Master’s from SEBTS.
In 2012, he gave away half his income to fight human trafficking. It was a check for $10,000, which was matched to raise another 10k, for a total of $20,000 for charity. The charity was One Day’s Wages.
J.S. is currently a chaplain at a hospital, Q&A blogger, and professional rambler. He has been published on the front page of WordPress.com and is a contributing blogger for X3Church, Church Leaders, and Church Plants.
For more information about J.S. Park, please visit his blog at http://jsparkblog.com/
You can also connect with him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pastorjspark
To purchase his books please visit his Amazon page at http://www.amazon.com/J-S-Park/e/B00NZ70FDW/