The face of persistence is a small gray dog named Max placing the tennis ball in my lap for the hundredth time, tail wagging, ever expectant.
He's been repeatedly pushed away with a "not now" or an "I'm tired" or a "later." Undeterred, he looks with his bright black eyes from the ball to me and back to the ball. His sheer exuberance finally wins me over, and with a begrudging smile, I throw the first of many fetches.
Whenever I've faced a problem that just doesn't go away, I've thought about Max's enthusiastic persistence. And what I see is most needed is a change in my thought and expectation. Instead of discouragement or a defeated sense that this situation will never change, I see the need to redefine my expectations, to spur on my hope. to boost my courage to keep on going.
For me, what really brings about this significant change is prayer - a deep and humble turning to God. As I do this, I'm orienting my face toward spiritual sunlight, so to speak, feeling the penetrating warmth of God's love replacing the cold doubts and fears that had grown as I stood in my own shadow. I find a new encouragement welling up within me and an expectation of good all around.
The effect of this prayer falls in line with one of the beautiful promises attributed to Jesus: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Matt. 7:7, 8). Most of human experience would suggest that you don't get what you ask for, so part of what is implied is the persistence that seeks until it finds.
Explaining the power of prayer to heal, Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of Christian Science, wrote: "There is nothing difficult nor toilsome in this task, when the way is pointed out; but self-denial, sincerity, Christianity, and persistence alone win the prize, as they usually do in every department of life" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 462).
I learned this lesson once with a recurring case of poison ivy. The first outbreak that summer had been awful, but every month or so afterward it came back with almost as much fury as the first time. As a kid, I had been doused with various lotions and medication that had only moderately calmed the problem, so this time I was turning to God for a deeper, more permanent solution.
As I spent more time in prayer - acknowledging God's presence and power all around me and governing me and even defining my identity and character - it became easier to see what had been growing like a noxious weed in my thoughts. There was a rather obvious correlation between the outbreaks and feeling myself riled by various personal slights and injustices in my life. It was going to take some persistence to root out this kind of emotional reaction. What it called for was prayer and more prayer.
Soon, another troubling social situation came up. As I began to ruminate about it in the shower, before my eyes the familiar reaction began breaking out all over my arms. This time, I went straight to God in my heart and even said out loud, "I don't care how uncomfortable my skin feels today, nothing is coming between me and God." And I meant it.
Within minutes, the reaction calmed. I stayed with God in my thoughts all that day. The other situation became a nonissue. And that was the turning point. Once or twice over the next months, there was a moment when I noticed a twinge of discomfort in my skin, but it only drove me more determinedly back to God. I had found prayer could change an entrenched mental outlook and embrace my physical well-being as well. Persistent prayer had won the prize - a better understanding of God, of myself, and of others. And that is something worth seeking and finding.
I'm sure Max would agree, so long as you throw the ball first.
Let us not be weary
in well doing:
for in due season
we shall reap, if we faint not.