Theme2-2018

What Does It Mean to Be
A People of Perseverance?

People cry not because they are weak. It’s because they’ve been strong too long.  — Shane Koyczan

This morning I have been pondering a nearly forgotten lesson I learned in high school music. Sometimes in band or choir, music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they actually can hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant… So let’s remember the advice of music: Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song.  — Michael Moore

So, have you been strong too long?

It’s not the usual question when tackling the topic of perseverance.  Most often, we’re asked, “Are you ready to be strong?” The standard recipe is well known:  Buck up!  Grin and bear it!  Keep pushing!  Keep moving forward!  Dig deep; you are stronger than you know!  But maybe Koyczan is right.  Maybe this typical roadmap isn’t the path to perseverance; maybe it’s just the path to breakdown.

And when we combine Koyczan’s quote with Moore’s invitation to breathe, we suddenly see that balance plays a bigger role in perseverance than we often assume.  As a people of perseverance, we are being called not just to grit and strong wills, but to gentleness and self-care.  Constantly pushing ourselves without also giving ourselves the gift of pause gets us nowhere.  Digging deeper without making time to deepen and fill our wells is a recipe for self-inflicted pain.

All of which is to say that maybe vulnerability is the real secret to perseverance.  Maybe admitting you’re tired and asking for help is the real strength that gets us through.  That dominant myth of Sisyphus pushing his rock up that endless hill hasn’t done us any favors.  We assume that Sisyphus is suffering because his work is endless, but maybe it’s his isolation and lack of a place to rest that is his true torment.

So, friends, this month, let’s not torment ourselves.  We don’t have to give up those pep talks about digging deep and being stronger than we know.  But right alongside that, let’s make sure we’re also doing the more tender work of propping each other up and reminding each other to breathe.

Rabbi David Wolf tells a story that we all should carry with us this month:

A boy and his father were walking along a road when they came across a large stone.  “Do you think if I use all of my strength, I can move this rock?” the child asked.  His father answered, “If you use all of your strength, I am sure you can do it.”  The boy began to push the rock.  Exerting himself as much as he could, he pushed and pushed.  The rock did not move.  Discouraged, he said to his father, “You were wrong. I can’t do it.”  His father put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said, “No son.  You didn’t use all your strength–you didn’t ask me to help.”

What a gift to remember that perseverance isn’t a solo act. May that be the gift this month gives us all.