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In Pursuit of Perseverance

This puzzle is kicking my tail. Only four colors (black, white, grey, and red) and all the stinkin’ pieces look the same. I’m not enough of a Star Wars fan to enjoy the picture, but I’m too much of a perfectionist to quit. Why am I doing this again? Oh yeah, it’s supposed to be fun. A relaxing way to spend a carefree summer afternoon. Right? Riiiiiight.

My son wanders in and asks me for some screen time. The opportunity is not lost on me. “Sure, kiddo, after you sit down with me and get four pieces first.” He turns tail and walks outside—sigh … worth a shot.

A little later, my hubby walks by. I feel hopeful for a second. “Wanna help, babe?” Him: “Nah, it looks too easy.” My head snaps up, incredulous. I see his handsome smirk. OH, sarcasm … ok, I see what he did there.

Enter my firstborn daughter, stage right. Thank goodness for firstborns with their helpful hearts, organization skills, and inherited perfectionism. (Yes, I know that’s a stereotype, but in my family, it’s true). She and I start sorting, not only by color (that’s for amateurs) but also by the number of innies/outies. Slowly but surely, we make order out of chaos – which is the whole appeal of a puzzle in the first place.

Finally, a few hours later, the last piece snaps into place. And by “last,” of course, I mean “fourth to last” because there were three blasted pieces missing! Oh, for the love…

This is just one example of when perseverance paid off. (Well, sort of, I’m still kind of salty about the missing pieces). But eventually, things that made no sense became clear, and we could stand back and be proud of what we completed.

* * *

I don’t have to tell you that usually it takes much, much longer than one afternoon to bring order out of the chaos in our lives. To persevere through a task or trial, arriving at a vantage point where you can see the whole picture from all the confusing pieces. This is usually a long road, often punctured by oh-so-many moments of wanting to quit.

When was the last time you were on a road like that? I imagine for many of us, it was pandemic-related. Frustrations related to COVID seem to be universal.

The last time I faced an “I quit” moment was circa November 2020, after an exhausting week of trying to teach math to high schoolers through a screen. I was just plain out of ideas. My bag of tricks was empty. I loved these kids and wanted to connect with them emotionally and meet as many needs as possible. I wanted them to be able to learn and enjoy the learning process. I wanted them to know they were seen, known, and cared for.

But it seemed there were just too many obstacles in the way for that to happen. And there were lies in my head telling me that nothing was working and everything was pointless. I remember crumpling to the shower floor and sobbing out my frustration, letting the tears mix with the scalding water. (The shower is my preferred spot for a meltdown - anyone else? Yeah, we had a particularly large water bill that month…).

I think it’s normal to want to quit. We all have that urge to bail when the problems outnumber our solutions, when the exertion required to continue seems to outlast the energy we have in reserve. We begin to doubt ourselves – our abilities, our calling, our motives, our past choices, our faith – everything!

“Imposter syndrome” is one of the sneakiest tools of the enemy of God, and he whips it out right when we’re at the breaking point. He loves to convince us that we are not enough and never have been, activating the “flight” in “fight or flight.” He would love for us to feel alone, exposed, and hopeless, causing us to shrink back and wallow in our shame or ineptitude. He hopes that maybe then we will sit down and stop trying, abandoning our God-given purpose.

Not so fast!

We are people who do not rely on our own strength. We know the Source of all wisdom, all power, all hope. We know we can’t do it on our own, so why would we? The One who made us and knows our name also knows every exhausting hill we climb and is readily available to help us conquer it.

Solomon asked God for wisdom when he recognized that the tasks before him were too big for him. I love how he phrased his request: “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10 NIV, emphasis added). There is such humility in how he approached the task before him and the role he had been given. His request was famously granted, and he became known as the wisest man in the world.