Perseverance pays off
“Practice makes perfect”. It’s an old saying, but one that contains more
than a grain of truth.
Like many others, I began taking piano lessons as a child. But practicing
was tedious. There were too many other more interesting things to do with
my time. So, much to my parent’s dismay, I gave up. Fortunately, later in
life I returned to the keyboard, and though I missed much of the early
teaching and discipline needed to hone technique, leading to excellence
and proficiency, I can now play tolerably well. And this is something that
is a real joy in my life!
To become better at something, one needs to
persevere – push through physical and mental
barriers and just stay the course.
In the wake of the Tokyo Olympics, it’s very
clear that while Olympic athletes seem to
succeed with effortless grace, their stellar
performances haven’t come easily. The average Olympian trains
somewhere around four hours a day – every day – and accepts that it will
take years in order to become really competitive.
How well an athlete performs is often attributed to mental toughness. But
performance really depends on physical capacity to work hard too. That
capacity is based on two factors – genetic talent and the quality of the
training program. Good training makes up for some limitations, but most
of us will never be Olympians no matter how hard we work. We haven't
inherited the right combination of endurance, potential, speed and muscle.
But given equal talent, the better-trained athlete can generally outperform
the one who didn’t commit to serious effort.
Interestingly, there are references in scripture likening the Christian
journey to preparing for, and running a race. The writer of the letter to the
Hebrew church for instance says “strip down, start running – and never
quit! Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished the race we’re
in. He never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in
and with God.”
The problem is it’s very easy to give up; especially when the going gets
tough. Obstacles in our way can just sap our energy. I know when I’m
working in the shed and hit upon a problem that I just can’t seem to get my
head around, I’ll maybe battle on for a while. But I’ll gradually become
more and more frustrated – which in itself tends to work against resolving
the issue. So, I’ve learnt over the years to take a break – walk away –
knowing that I’ll return later in a clearer frame of mind. When I do, the
solution that had evaded me before seems to always come quickly, and a
good result is assured. In this instance, it’s not so much a case of initially
giving up, but of taking time out to refresh, before tackling the issue again.
In the meantime, I’m thinking and reflecting on the problem and possible
All of this is a useful pointer to how we approach life. In the context of our
spiritual growth, it can be quite helpful to understand how we progress
difficult issues and learning processes.
Some people seem to give up on working with their relationships –
especially with God. But like a great athlete – or an amateur workshop
wannabe – we need to invest enough time, energy and commitment to
guarantee a satisfactory result, without the temptation to give up
When we do, we’ll realize results that are out-of-this-world!