Patience and perseverance: Essential qualities when the going gets tough
A Christian Science perspective: Commentary on the El Capitan climb.
For almost three weeks, two young rock climbers spent many hours a day clinging to a bare, sheerly vertical rock face as they attempted to succeed in free climbing the Dawn Wall of the El Capitan peak in Yosemite National Park. On Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the top of El Capitan. In doing so, they have accomplished the most difficult rock climb ever attempted.
The task was so demanding that some believe it was miraculous they were able to accomplish it. It seems evident that two important qualities were essential to making this record-breaking El Capitan climb possible: patience and perseverance. The seven-plus years of patient planning and preparation for Mr. Caldwell’s third attempt to free climb El Capitan surely demonstrate perseverance. Certainly Mr. Jorgensen had to exhibit patient perseverance when he failed 10 times on the ultra-difficult section of the ascent called Pitch 15 only to succeed on the 11th try.
In our fast-paced, technological world, patience and perseverance may sometimes seem like old-fashioned qualities that belong more to an outmoded era. But many spectacular and ordinary achievements require down-to-earth humility in order to work out tasks step by step and to get through failure, setbacks, and discouragement.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper and the Discoverer of Christian Science, makes clear in her writings that the qualities of patience and perseverance are important to succeed in the grandest, most profound accomplishments that our world needs. In her book “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” Mrs. Eddy says, “The lives of great men and women are miracles of patience and perseverance. Every luminary in the constellation of human greatness, like the stars, comes out in the darkness to shine with the reflected light of God” (p. 340).
When challenges are really tough, many have found that more than human will and human effort to persevere are required. As Isaac Watts’s famous hymn states: “Mere human energy shall faint, and youthful vigor cease; but those who wait upon the Lord, In strength shall still increase” (“Christian Science Hymnal,” Hymn 320).
Relying on a personal sense of our abilities may take us to great heights. But even beyond these abilities we can discover the unchanging, ever-reliable capacities that belong to our spiritual, God-given individuality. Christian Science teaches that strength and ability, as well as patience and perseverance, have their origin in God, the source of all divine goodness. God, infinite Mind, is the source of all intelligence and ability. Spirit, another biblical name for God, is the source of all strength. As the Bible tells us, we are each created by God, in His likeness (see Genesis 1:26). Therefore we reflect all the qualities – including strength, ability, patience, and perseverance – that are needed to complete tasks that God has unfolded for us.
I’ve encountered circumstances when I felt I did not possess the human resources to persevere. The teachings of Christian Science have instilled in me the importance of being willing to lean on God during difficulties. I do this by acknowledging that, in Christ Jesus’ words, “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30), and affirming that God’s strength and ability are present to help me at any time. I then listen for God’s guidance with the expectation that God, who is our divine parent, is always willing to help His children. Then I follow the clear, calm guidance I receive in thought. This approach has enabled me to accomplish what I could not have done without divine aid.
Whether we have a goal as difficult and remarkable as free climbing El Capitan, or whether we have our sights set on a more ordinary pursuit – wholeheartedly turning to God in our prayers sees any worthwhile activity to its fulfillment. Few of us will find ourselves in quite the predicaments that emerge in free climbing a 3,000 foot sheer rock face with the world watching. But all of us will have opportunities at many points in our lives to demonstrate the spiritual qualities of patience and perseverance. When the going gets tough, understanding the spiritual origin of these qualities and learning about our relation to God brings victory to all necessary accomplishments.