In the winters of my youth, February was a perfect month to consider what it might mean to be a people of perseverance. Winter in Wisconsin by then felt endless. Dull gray days slowly rippled out after Jimmy, the one true groundhog, saw his shadow in Sun Prairie, a small town just outside Madison. Tradition and Jimmy said six more weeks of winter. Even for those of us who loved being on toboggans and skates, enough was enough already.
Much older now, I see perseverance as something more than enduring the inconvenient or tiresome. Perseverance requires a vision of the not yet and a willingness to work toward it whether or not it is ever achieved.
What a great quality to lift up during Black History month!
This year, I again read MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. If you have never read it, I highly commend it to you. The Letter itself is King’s response to white clergy who urge patience and denounce his organizing and the direct non-violent action of the black community. How long, asks King, is long enough? Shouldn’t 340 years be sufficient?
At its core, perseverance is about not giving up. It is the small and large decisions even in the face of great difficulty, made in the service of something better than what is known. What better word is there to capture how civil rights gains were made in the 1960s? Perseverance echoes in the old spiritual “We Shall Overcome” and in the new song “Keep on Moving Forward.”
Most of our lives contain chapters of perseverance. Particularly hard times that threatened to run us over or a particular challenge over which we were intent on triumphing.
One thing is certain: perseverance is not a solo sport. We need others to help hold our vision of something better and to urge us on when we are tempted to quit. How fortunate we are to have this church to companion us and equip us to become people who can indeed persevere.