Perseverance. Even the word itself paints a picture of being between a rock and a hard place. After all, look where the word “severe” is placed. PerSEVERance. A serious trial or significant challenge that requires determination to come through. It wouldn’t require determination if the circumstances were not severe. However, regardless of the situation that creates the challenge, the wonder of perseverance changes the focus from the often horrific circumstances to the overcomer and somehow beauty emerges for all to see. Our eyes are drawn to something irresistible.
All of us can likely point to examples of perseverance that uplift us and fill our spirit with hope. For Canadians, Terry Fox and his cross-country Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer research is iconic in our recent history. Harriet Tubman and and her dogged determination to lead slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad is another favourite of mine. William Wilberforce and his unrelenting push to abolish slavery while battling crippling illness has inspired many. All of these and other similar examples are triumphs of perseverance against incredible odds and difficult circumstances. While we are aware of the difficulties and obstacles these people faced, what sears their stories into our memory is that they overcame their obstacles and somehow emerged and produced something of beauty in their hard place.
If we are brutally honest, we will admit that not every story produces such a spectacular and public victory. For every Terry Fox, Harriet Tubman or William Wilberforce, who are publicly recognized and celebrated, there are many, many more who persevere in obscurity. Their stories are never told through movies, books or media attention but are just as inspiring if we reflect on them. The soldier who died in the surf of Normandy without even reaching the beach. The single mom who raised a household of children by herself and did not live to see them raise families of their own. The couple who leave the familiarity of their hometown and travel across the world to start over and raise a family in a foreign land because they want to give their children and children’s children a different future. All of these situations and more happen regularly without recognition and fanfare.
Whether well known or obscure, what is the secret of perseverance? How does one persevere? Rather than attempting to answer this question with a simple formula or worse yet, a self-help book, let the words of some who have persevered encourage us and lead toward understanding of this phenomenon:
“If you are going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill
“I would fight for my liberty so long as my strength lasted, and if the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.” Harriet Tubman
“Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.” Eric Liddell
The common theme to these quotes and the lives of those who uttered them and of countless others is this – regardless of the circumstances, the opposition or how difficult the challenge, perseverance is simply choosing to keep going. Recognizing that nothing you can do will change the circumstance but you can reach within and find the strength to keep going. You will likely fall down, get hurt and perhaps even have your life taken from you but the choice to continue forward remains yours. No one can take that from you.
Remarkably, regardless of whether the results of perseverance are very public and well known or whether they are hidden from the view of anyone but yourself, somehow something beautiful emerges from the struggle. The something is the beauty of hope. Perhaps waves of hope that pour over others as they see your example or the simple and deeply personal hope that you can do it again tomorrow. That you can keep going to whatever the future may hold.
Paul the apostle, someone who experienced incredible opposition and suffering in his life expressed this very well.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4
Carry on. Don’t stop. Keep going.