Titian 1488-1576, Sisyphus

The Perils of Perseverance

Perseverance would have to be one of my least favourite virtues. I hate being told to persevere; to ‘just keep going’. As if I weren’t already doing my best, or trying my hardest…The whole notion of perseverance conjures up images in my mind of me, staggering around a running track at the end of a cross-country race, with spectators in the stands urging me on to the finish-line – all the while greedily gobbling down their sausage rolls, pies, and chips.

‘Do you know how annoying – how actually de-motivating – that is?’, I feel like screaming.

Of course, my days of any sort of long-distance running are way behind me, but I still find myself getting irrationally irritated by any suggestion from others that, if only I can just push through, keep going that little bit further, keep trying that little bit harder, then all the difficulties of the present time will pass, and everything will work out fine.

Especially when such ‘encouragement’ is shouted out by people from the safety of the sidelines; from those who are not ‘in the mix and the mess’ with me.

And, if I’m being really honest, perhaps the only thing that annoys me more is when such calls to persevere come with a glib, Christian gloss. ‘Don’t you know that perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope doesn’t disappoint…?’ Yep, I can proof-text with the best of them – but really, right at this moment, that’s just not helpful!

As we enter the second-half of our second Victorian lock-down, with COVID-19 numbers appearing to trend up not down, I feel overwhelmed by the constancy of calls to persevere; to just…keep…going. What’s even harder is that we don’t know how long we have to keep going for. We have no idea when this will end. The only thing that seems vaguely certain is that the original six-week lock-down will extend far beyond that.

And please don’t tell me that persevering through this time of distress and dislocation is producing in me some nebulous quality called ‘character’. As far as I can tell, the longer this goes on, the more I withdraw into myself; the greater my tendency to snap; the less tolerant of other people’s frailties I become… If it is ‘character’ that’s being formed in me, it’s not an especially Christian one, nor is it one that I think I want.

Don’t get me wrong – of course we need to stay the course, stick to the restrictions, and do whatever we can to get this virus under control. We owe that not only to ourselves and our loved ones, but as our responsible care for all our neighbours – those we know, and those we don’t.

But well-meaning rhetoric about ‘persevering’ isn’t that helpful right at the moment.

The only thing that helps at times like this is that, ultimately, I know I’m not alone. I have a community that is with me. I have a family that is struggling through this with me. I have friends and colleagues who grieve, and wish, and hope, and long, with me. In some very strange way, despite all the isolation and quarantining, I have never felt more connected; connected to a community – that includes, but is also much bigger than, the Church – that is struggling through this together.

To be honest, that’s the only way I can persevere. Because the people urging me on are you – not people who are shouting out from the safety of the sidelines, but people who are ‘in the mix and the mess’ with me; people who are hurting, and struggling, and despairing, just as I am.

At this time, you are Christ’s hands and feet for me. Thank you.

1 comment

  • A timely reminder of the perils, not only of perseverance, but of resorting to platitudes in any situation, although some of the people on the sidelines may be shouting because they are so close to giving up themselves. Sometimes, before you can say “Keep going” you have to say “you poor thing…”.

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