by Joanie Butman
Last week’s topic of perseverance is particularly timely as we left for a family vacation yesterday. It is unfortunate that our spring break always lands in the middle of Lent. In my previous post, I forgot to mention the group of individuals that claim Papal dispensation in the event that a vacation falls during Lent and/or you are leaving your country of origin. Then I received an email this week which insisted that God is busy picking a new Pope so I was in the clear to break my Lenten fast. It doesn’t really matter—everyone knows there are no rules in Mexico anyway.
If you think giving up chocolate or alcohol is a challenge, one year I resolved to exercise more patience as my Lenten offering. Come to think of it, that year is the only one where three days would have been considered a major victory. For years I suffered from a delusion many mothers share: the perfect family vacation where everyone gets along, stays healthy and all goes smoothly. My perseverance in pursuit of that delusion led us to family therapy one year after a particularly thorny trip. Ironically, that was the same year as my patience pledge!
Our therapy didn’t go any better than the vacation. On the way home from our one and only visit, I asked my kids what the therapist said to them. They answered in unison, “He said you were crazy.” You can imagine my reaction – or maybe not. They defended themselves, “Don’t blame us. You were the one who forced us to go.” I called the therapist as soon as I got home and, if he thought I was crazy before, my conversation confirmed his original diagnosis. I told him indeed I was insane for paying him $250 to add fuel to the fire!
Even though it wasn’t the outcome I’d hoped for, it did unite them. If I had to be the sacrificial lamb to build this alliance, so be it. I’d finally found something on which they could agree. I saw a glimmer of hope that someday their constant bickering might be supplanted by shared interests other than maligning me.
Now that my offspring are no longer ‘children,’ our trips are much more enjoyable. Age and a secret we learned (unfortunately too late to save the monetary and mental expense of therapy) contribute to this the newfound luxury. Choose to travel with a like-minded family with kids around the same age. Everyone behaves much better in a group – including mom, usually. I can’t say for sure whether the family we chose necessarily wanted to be adopted as our chaperones, but they’ve certainly been graciously accommodating over the years. For all I know, if they were writing about perseverance, we might be their example!
Parenting is an excellent example of perseverance. Even though quitting is not an option for most of us, there have been times we’ve all been tempted. If I'd had a viable alternative available, I might have even made good on one of my many threats to do just that. A friend recently commented, “Parenting is not for the weak at heart – I need to surrender and pray more!” Nevertheless, most parents never give up on their children just as God never gives up on us. Tough love is called for at times, and that has to be the hardest test of perseverance for a parent and probably for God as well.
Choosing perseverance is a particularly valuable skill in life, and one I became proficient at while attending Catholic school. I’ve often toyed with the notion that Nietzche shared a similar experience, and his famous admonition, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger,” was actually part of his commencement speech.
Perseverance is a key ingredient to success and in surviving hardship (including the teenage years) because let’s face it, life is one long perseverance test. If I was delusional about the perfect family vacation or sticking to my feeble Lenten attempts, anyone who falls victim to the idea of perfection in this life is going to need a hefty dose of perseverance to overcome that handicap.
The tricky thing about perseverance is that you can only get good at it by failing - a lot. With that in mind, I choose to view my setbacks as growth opportunities because to give up trying is admitting defeat. I like Laura Lynch’s answer to the proverbial "Are we there yet?" question in her book, Mistakes Happen. “I may not be where I want to be, but if I stop now, I'll NEVER get where I'm going!”
C.S. Lewis has a more profound, spiritual view. “God knows our situation. He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.”
God never gives up on us, so I choose to persevere in my pursuit of Him during Lent, life and our family vacation.
In what area(s) do you find it hardest to choose perseverance?