An 87-year-old nun lived in her community’s large health care center. To put it bluntly, she was not known for her cheerful disposition. Yet every day she would shuffle down the hall with her cane and pray before the statue of St. Therese the Little Flower—a saint who died at age 24. One day another sister overheard the elderly nun saying to the statue: “If you had lived as long as I have, you wouldn’t be a saint either!”
This true little story makes a good point: perseverance in virtue is not easy. Whereas it might be easy to be good for a short period of time (the week before Santa Claus comes, for example), it is not easy to be good for a long period of time (for the other 51 weeks of the year—let alone for 87 years!)
That’s why we tend to admire perseverance when we see it. We admire athletes who train rigorously for years just for a chance to compete in the Olympics. We admire a woman like St. Monica who prayed for the conversion of her son Augustine for over 30 years. And we admire married couples who have been happily married to each other for 50 years or even more.
What exactly is perseverance? It is the ability to persist in an undertaking over a long period of time despite counter influences, periodic setbacks, or bouts of discouragement. Synonyms include steadfastness, endurance, and constancy. But perseverance does not mean just sticking with something. We all know people who stayed in marriages or in other relationships that were destructive. Or individuals who stayed in unfulfilling jobs, even when they were offered something better, because they lacked the courage to change. That’s not the kind of perseverance that is a virtue.
When, then, is perseverance a virtue? To answer that question, let’s ask another one: What does God call us to persevere in? Jesus gives us the answer: Loving. No more, no less. Perseverance is a virtue when it is also an expression of steadfast love. At judgment time, God will not be interested in how long we persevered in a certain place or occupation or relationship. God will be interested only in how well we persevered in loving—no matter where we were or what we were doing.
I like the adage: “Persevere! Remember the greatest oak tree was once a little nut that held
its ground.” In one sense, every oak tree is an acorn that persevered. But it didn’t persevere in remaining an acorn. It persevered in becoming an oak tree. Healthy perseverance makes us grow and become better people. In fact, perseverance in loving can transform us into Jesus.
Jesus encouraged his disciples to persevere. In explaining the parable of the sower, for
example, Jesus said that the seed that fell on rich soil represented those who, upon hearing the word of God, “hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Lk. 8:15). His other parables speak of perseverance too: the growth of the mustard seed, the woman searching for the lost coin, the shepherd seeking his lost sheep, the father watching for his wayward son to return home.
Jesus himself gave his disciples (and us) a beautiful example of perseverance throughout his life. He persevered in teaching his message of love and forgiveness despite fatigue, misunderstandings, and overt opposition. He persevered in trusting God, Abba, even when he was led away to be crucified.
Someone has said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” Perseverance doesn’t come easy. Surely, then, perseverance in loving is a grace to pray for—perseveringly!
Loving God, You are the God of perseverance. Your love for us never fails. And I am made in your image and likeness. This means I am called to persevere in loving as you do. Help me to persevere in all my worthy endeavors—my vocation, my relationships, my good deeds. But most of all help me to remember that it is my perseverance in loving that matters most. When I get tired or discouraged or I fail in loving, help me to recall that good seed that fell on rich ground. Or that acorn that was transformed into a majestic oak tree. Or that father watching faithfully every day for his wayward son to return. I ask for the grace of perseverance through Jesus and the power of his steadfast Spirit. Amen.
Our love for God and others is a mere reflection of God’s steadfast love for us. Here is a short song that celebrates God’s steadfast love:
Think of someone you know or have read about that has demonstrated perseverance. What were some of the obstacles he or she faced? What factors do you think helped this person to persevere?
In your own journey of life, what helps you to persevere in loving?