Persistence
Posted on February 15, 2015

"This one thing I do," said St. Paul, "I press on toward the goal ….” Sometimes we think that the philosophy of moving forward when we're tempted to retreat (the philosophy of hanging in there when we feel like giving up) is the private property of motivational speakers and writers. But, that is simply not the case. As a matter fact, a spirit of persistence (sometimes even bordering on dogged determination) is a biblical principle. Consider the saga of the Hebrew people inching their way through the long exodus from Egypt to Cana, or later of their ancestors refusing to give up over a span of seventy years when they were held captive in Babylon, or the infant Christian Church enduring sometimes brutal Roman persecution but devoting themselves to surviving until such time as they could emerge victorious.

Thomas Edison, who failed over a thousand times while trying to create a functioning light bulb, once said, "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." His voice was part of a great choir across the ages who have sung that same anthem. Confucius said it this way, "It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop moving." Arthur Caliandro loved to quote Winston Churchill whose entire speech at the commencement exercises for a certain university was: "Never, never, never give up!" Norman Vincent Peale phrased it this way: "It is always too early to give up."

As I look back over the years to this point in my life, whatever successes I have enjoyed usually did not come quickly. Most of the time they resulted from continued efforts which occasionally seemed to be moving with almost painful slowness. However, after long and laborious journeys, results at last were achieved. Likewise, I can remember occasions when I walked away from something prematurely. After four and a half years playing basketball, I quit the team midway through my junior year in high school for some reason I no longer even remember. I do, however, remember sitting in the stands when I was a senior, watching the team take the floor, and feeling disappointed that after having been part of that team since the seventh grade I was not part of it for our final season together. I remember quitting the Boy Scouts because a few of our projects asked more of me than I wanted to give and a few of our trips interfered with personal vacation plans. I also remember seeing friends of mine who hung in there receive their Eagle Scout awards and thinking, "It could have been me." And in genuinely more serious ways, I remember here and there walking away from a relationship that seemed more difficult to nurture than I was willing to do at the time. And now I wonder what cherished friendships I might've had all these years later had I been willing to put in a little more effort all those years earlier.

So, what about here, what about now? It really doesn't benefit any of us to remember past failures unless those memories equip us for future successes. Over the course of our lives have we learned the lessons that all those voices, secular and spiritual, have been trying to teach us about not giving up? What are your personal goals? What dreams still reside deep within you? What's on your bucket list? If you had a chance to do or become or accomplish anything, what would it be? And, more importantly, what's stopping you from making the effort? Thomas Edison's advice was both practical and wise: “The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." Or, as the cliché puts it, "Just keep on keeping on."

Here's a challenge. Take it seriously, or read and delete. It's up to you. Pick one of the dreams that you were asked to identify in the preceding paragraph. Start with one of the smaller ones. Make it a kind of personal lab experiment. Whatever caused you to put that dream on the back burner in times past, retrieve it today. Make it a priority between now and Easter or the end of spring. Just set aside a finite period of time to put some effort into making the dream come true. Create a plan. Do something specific every day. Take actions. And see if either the dream does not come true within the specified period of time or, at the very least, if you are not much closer to realizing it. Sometimes when we simply see one dream through, it will remind us that there is wisdom in not giving up prematurely on other dreams. "This one thing I do," said St. Paul, "I press on toward the goal ….”

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