HOLDING ON, PRESSING ON
Which brings me to a word which has taken on deep resonance for me: perseverance.
Let me tell you Sam’s story. Sam started coming to church where I pastor eight years ago. He was in his early thirties then. He immediately caught my attention. Sam had an obvious gift, raw and undisciplined, of leadership. I love that kind (perhaps a weakness of mine). He’d kissed the Blarney Stone, so could talk a storm, a rapid-fire barrage of persuasion, invitation, admonition, personal testimony, Biblical insight. It was quite a thing. At an inter-church service for Palm Sunday, when I was appointed with the task of finding someone who could give a “riveting personal testimony,” I thought only of Sam and sought out only Sam. I recommended to his pastor at the time that he invite Sam to speak. Sam did, and he did not disappoint.
But Sam, it turned out, lived his whole life under a cloud of disappointment, and so lived his whole life disappointing others. He was a flash in the pan that only left the pan charred, and flavored everything else with a bitter aftertaste.
There were several reasons for this. Sam nursed a wound of rejection. He had been given up as a toddler into foster care, and spent the first twelve years of his childhood in a home that was cold and unloving. He had to fend for himself. He learned to trust no one.
His giftedness, ample as it was, was not only bearing little or no fruit. It was actually causing harm. It had become a decoy and disguise, less and less plausible, for a life empty at the core.
So he came and went in people’s lives. Always, in his coming, it was for “real this time.”
It never was. He’d get bored, or things would get hard — disappointments would accumulate— and he would disappear again.
When he showed up for the sixth or seventh time at church, my own disappointment with him was at the point where I was ready to give up. He filled out a pew card and put it in the offering: “I’m back and want to get serious about my faith and ministry. When can we meet?”
I called and met him in a coffee shop. I asked him where he’d been, why he was back. The news took me off guard. He’d gone to Vancouver to pursue another relationship that ended in disappointment. But he was back because a girl here was pregnant with his child.
“Oh. Okay. So you’ve come back to marry her?”
“No. She’s not right for me. But I thought I had a responsibility, and so I’m here to do what I can.”
I asked Sam, then, to tell me his whole story. The foster homes. The many women who’d been in and out of his life. All the jobs he’d had or lost or quit. All the churches he’d attended and left.
It took a while.
When he’d finished, I said, “Sam, as you told all that in one go, did any theme or themes emerge for you?” He thought a moment, shook his head.
“One theme emerged for me,” I said. “Can I tell you?”
“You’re a quitter. You’ve never seen anything through. It always gets hard or boring, or both, and then you beg off, often with a pious excuse: it’s not God’s will, or the Spirit ‘led’ you. But the result is always the same: you finish nothing.”
That stung him into silence.
“Sam, I didn’t come to accuse you. That’s the devil’s work. But I do hope to be a voice in your wilderness. And like John the Baptist, I want to say to you, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight the paths for Him.’ Sam, here’s how I understand that: do what you need to do to simplify God’s work in your life. If you need to fill in valleys and level mountains to make it work, do it. I’m asking you to resolve things this time and not to quit. Resolve to see this through to the end. Why don’t you start this way: over the next week or so, study everything the Bible says on perseverance. Journal it. Pray it out. Wrestle it through. Find the meaning of the word, its substance. Find how to persevere, by what strength, in what hope. Leave no stone unturned.”
Sam was sullen by now, darkly silent. I was uncertain whether he’d do as I suggested.
I didn’t see him at church again for four months, though occasionally I’d see him walking around town, stooped, head hung, grizzled and blotchy, looking like he was living in the bush.
Then he showed up at church one Sunday. With Johanna, the girl who was carrying his child.
Really serious this time, he said.
It went up and down. They were going to get married. They weren’t. The baby came. They moved in together. He drank a lot. Then one day the police had to come to the house to break up a physical fight.
That gave me and another pastor the moment, yet another one, to get down to brass tacks. Sam this time seemed genuinely broken. Willing to do what needed doing. He moved out of the house. He quit drinking, and began a regimen of spiritual practices and practical steps to keep it that way.
A few weeks later, he asked me to marry him and Johanna.
I told them that the only way I would remotely consider it was if they underwent rigorous preparations. Rebuilt their relationship from the ground up. And since I was the one making the demand, I made the offer to help them do that.
They accepted, and then began many months of personal discipleship. Around a month or two, we hit a wall, and I asked to meet just with Sam for a few sessions. I suspected he was ready to pull his old worn-out trick, his Houdini routine, and disappear. He was. He felt, he told me, that he couldn’t go through with this. It was too hard. There were too many problems.
And then I reminded him about perseverance.
“Sam, did you ever do that study I asked you to do on perseverance?”
“Well, you need it now more than ever. But here’s the good news. Remember I said the pattern I saw in your life was quitting?”
“You haven’t quit yet. Not on this. You’re actually persevering. Sticking to your post. You gave up the bottle and stayed off. You moved out of the house and stayed out. You stayed in the relationship despite disappointment. Your becoming a good father to your daughter. Do you see that?”
“Tell me what difference it’s making.”
“Well, I’m closer to God. I have to be. I can’t do this without Him. And some of the ways I’ve handled situations in the past — getting angry, blaming, hiding — I don’t do that as much. I’m calmer. I’m able to see the big picture. I’m able to discover joy on the other side of hardship.”
“Ah, you know what you just described?”
“The fruit of perseverance. Paul says that suffering — when life doesn’t work out the way you want it to but makes you groan — suffering produces perseverance. Determination grows best in the soil of pain. And perseverance produces character— something deep down inside of you agreeing with God and so looking more like God. And then character produces hope — you actually begin to believe, in your bones, that this will turn out for the good, no matter how bleak it looks now. And hope — listen — doesn’t disappoint.
“Sam, you’ve lived your whole life disappointed and disappointing. You’ve believed that a life without disappointment would mean you got everything you wanted when you wanted it. But that’s just fed your disappointment. God’s life without disappointment is the fullness of His presence — His “love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit,” is how he puts it. But that life is the gift the far side of perseverance. (Romans 5:1-5)
“Do you want to hear more?”
“That was Paul on perseverance. James says perseverance is developed by the ‘testing of your faith,’ by trials, hardships, misery, disappointments. It’s another way of saying what Paul says: suffering produces this. Then James says that perseverance must ‘finish its work’ — in other words, you don’t just work on persevering; persevering works on you — so that you may become mature, complete, not lacking anything. Again, that’s almost shorthand for character, hope, and a life without disappointment. The reward of perseverance is fullness.
“James also warns about the fallout when we don’t persevere. We get tossed around by life. We stop living in expectancy toward God. We become ‘unstable’ in all we do. Sound familiar? (James 1:2-8)
Sam laughed. “Yeah.”
“You want more?”
“Peter weighs in on the subject. Peter lists perseverance as the middle virtue in a list of seven virtues we must ‘add to our faith’ (My book Hidden in Plain Sight is largely an exploration and application of Peter’s seven virtues.) What he promises if we possess perseverance, plus six other virtues, ‘in increasing measure’ is that we will ‘participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world.’ You’ll be Godly not worldly. And he further promises that we will be effective and productive in our walk with Christ. Another way of saying all that: perseverance produces character — participation in God, not compliance with evil — which produces hope, and hope doesn’t disappoint — we become fruitful for the King and His kingdom. That’s fullness.
“Peter, like James, also warns us what happens when we lack perseverance. He says we’ll be ‘nearsighted and blind,’ and we will forget that we’ve been ‘cleansed from past sins.’ We’ll see our lives only up close, never get the big picture, never from God’s perspective, and largely we won’t see it at all: the things that matter most we’ll be blind to. And the life we’d been freed from we’ll keep going back to because we’ll forget we’ve been freed from it.
Well, it was a good lecture. But I’m replicating here not to impress (or bore you) but for this reason: something changed that day for Sam. Something very deep and very real. A month later, I married him and Johanna.
A year later, through ups and downs, they’re not disappointed.
Perseverance will do that, every time.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
As I told you in Spiritual Rhythm: Persevering (Intro), I told you that I had received a holy dream. Yet, the night of May 19th, 1989 was sure to be a memorable and harrowing night. Just getting home from shagging carriages for the supermarket and a long day at school, I was exhausted. So, as soon as I got home, I went right upstairs to my bedroom, and like normal men, I fell asleep almost before my head hit the pillow. What followed was a dream (probably a holy nightmare) in where I was in a hospital room not being able to speak or communicate — it seemed like an eternity, a good long time. In fact, I did not wake up till 11 am, unusual for a guy who generally wakes up from 6-8 am. However, I didn’t “spill the beans” of my dream, which turned out to be a reality 5 weeks later.
I started working overnight as an unarmed security guard as my full time job and working 2 other part time jobs equaling over 80 hours/week for nearly 3 weeks until the almost death-inducing car accident, I was traveling up to my home using mainly the highway. Oh yeah, a few of my family and friends say I was up over 24 hours prior to the accident, just as an extra tidbit. Falling asleep behind the wheel and having a low blood sugar or, in technical terms, a low blood glucose, that didn’t help any either as I went careening off the highway. I was the victim of over correction going up at 70 mph; with an open driver’s side window, I ended up with a traumatic brain injury since I directly hit into a granite ledge that lined either side of the highway.
To everybody’s astonishment, I only broke two bones: my index finger on my right side, and my skull. The rest was indelible minor cuts that turned into scars. I was immediately sent into a coma, similar to what Adam went through in the creation of Eve I imagine only I was in that coma for 30 days. Yet, there was a medical doctor close behind me on the highway as he called for an ambulance once he finished looking over me.
I was in pretty rough shape, to say the least. My mother, who was an Intensive Care Unit nurse for 15 years, said I was “touch and go” for the next 72 hours, and the doctor who was assigned to my case was professional colleagues with my mother. They worked together on several ICU cases during her 15 years. So, when he came out to tell her and my dad that things didn’t look good, my mother responded that I was chosen by God for ministry, and I was going to recover.
Just about immediately, my situation that I was in spread like wild fire across several churches, my school, my Christian college that I was supposed to attend the next school year, friends from school and personal friends started praying for me. However, some lost hope that complete deliverance wasn’t in store for me. Yet things happened to me just like I dreamt 5 weeks before the car accident including paralyzation of my right side. When I was transferred over to the rehabilitation hospital by the ambulance crew, that is when I can remember first opening my eyes.
Large sloths of time went by, in and out of consciousness. See, I still thought I was in that “dream.” So I complied with the things that the rehabilitation hospital staff wanted me to do as much was in my ability. For 3 weeks I was thinking I was in a dream. I remember being in my speech therapist office. She wanted me to speak some simple words: “I,” “we,” “us.” I could say it in my mind, but to speak it verbally – nothing but silence. (You want to know how frustrating that is: to be able to comprehend what another person is asking you to do, but with all your energy can’t respond) I felt like a failure sitting in a high back wheelchair. I felt like that in all aspects of my rehabilitation, but remember I thought I was in a dream. And then one night after I had eaten supper and time to retire to our hospital rooms, I began thinking: “Is this for real?” Then, in my head, I began to pray:
“Oh Lord, I am sick of being in this dream! I’ve done all, to the best of my ability, that the doctor, nurses, and therapists asked me to do. I’m frustrated that I am dreaming this dream! Please, Lord, get me out of this dream! But, by chance if this is real, I want to serve you no matter what. Please give me the strength and fortitude to get through this. In Jesus Christ’s name, Amen!”
That night, I didn’t believe I was actually hurt, suffering from a dream. I fully expected to wake up in my nice, comfortable bed at home. I was counting on it, but I remember my disappointment when I woke up in my rehabilitation hospital room. I figuratively had to pinch myself. I remember reading earlier that God doesn’t like those who don’t keep their promises or vows to Him (Deuteronomy 23:21). And then I said in that little quiet voice in my head:
“I will do what You ask of me. Please give me strength and fortitude now that I know what I am facing, a life of hardship.”
After I said that prayer, God allowed my whole body to, not miraculously heal itself like before but miraculous on how fast I improved. Including the 3 weeks I thought I was in a dream, from a high back wheelchair to wheelchair to walking, from being frustrated at not being able to speak a word to joking with all that surrounded me in the rehab hospital, including the hospital decided to keep me another week because I was doing so good, from the hospital staff that were assigned to my case just throwing away the book on “normal” rehab stays, I was in that place just two and a half months.
However, my journey wasn’t over. Yes, I exited the rehab hospital at a record time. Two and a half months from being in bed for the first week to walking out was incredible as far as rehabilitation purposes go, but my journey was just beginning as I praised God through all of it. God made an impression on me to return to the college that prayed for me; however, that wasn’t going to be an easy task. But with the Lord at my side, I took the verse of Scripture that still speaks to me:
“For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).
Not by choice, I staggered my three out-patient therapies with the length of time I would stay in each: physical, occupational, and speech, along with I had a tutor to go over the education that I lost. And it wasn’t easy. I remember my out-patient physical therapy took about three fourths of a year. My out-patient occupational therapy took about a year in which I manage to drive again, and my out-patient speech therapy took the longest which was scheduled right up till I was to leave for college.
I went to Southeastern College of the Assembly of God, the college that held my place for they prayed for me. My first semester I took Accounting and another general education class – I believe it was English. I had a total of 5-6 credits that first semester where the average was 12-13 credits. I was confident that taking accounting would be familiar to me because I had done so well with it in high school. After all, I had the final score of 99 percent in that Accounting 2 class, and I went to a Christian high school which there grades are more strict than public education. But after about 4 weeks, I had to quit because my brain injured mind could not handle it. I remember going up to the student chapel right above the snack shop several times that first semester especially since I felt like a failure. I never gave up on anything, but this time I did. I found much of my free time was spent up there pleading with God.
This is the first set back of my newly brain injured youth pastoral-ship, I thought. Spring of 1993 is when I made the change of my majors to Youth Pastoral-ship to Psychology. Although I wanted to make sure I could still minister to the youth, I found out that all majors did have the minimum qualifications to still hold on to a pastoral position. Near the end, (I was up to 13 credits per semester), I went to the southeastern portion of the Assembly of God Division and found out how much would be acceptable to be considered a part time minister. They said part -time ministers had to preach 13-15 times per year, I recall.. And I never was able to do that. Talking about disappointment! All I accomplished throughout my undergrad years goes to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, but there still lingers in me a situation in which to preach, and I finished with a 2.8 grade point average upon graduation with a Psychology degree not being able to officially minister.
Me and my wife moved back up here to New Hampshire since her father was sick as I took a year off college education when the Lord had me pursue my master’s of Community Psychology. By then, I was 95 percent sure of what God wanted me to do with the current stage in my life. Also, I took active volunteering in human services to a new level during my undergrad years, masters’ years, and my career as a human service worker: be an active participant in spreading the Gospel to the human services field which mainly consist of the disabled, their friends and family, and the people who surround their case. So I began to do so with my newly acquired brain injury that hit the part of my brain that controls speech.
Being a Christian means following after Christ— which means potential suffering and persecution for His sake. As 1 Peter 2:21 (ESV) says:
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, so that you might follow in His steps.”
Let’s get out there, and speak the TRUTH with all BOLDNESS no matter what the circumstances you find yourself in.
~ Darren L Beattie, The Soul Blogger of TrueLifeChristianity.com ~