The Season of Hope

The Season of Hope

I remember many years ago hearing a sermon on perseverance. The preacher’s contention was that perseverance is the greatest human attribute. That is, we are at our best when we choose not to throw in the towel even when throwing in the towel seems like a reasonable choice. I took that seriously and for most of my life would say I agreed with this preacher. In fact, this is what I believe now….mostly.

I admire hanging in and playing to the final buzzer. I respect those who stay and, as Winston Churchill famously said, “never give up”. My hat’s off to those of you who have a great work ethic. But as I have counseled people over the years and many living in very bad circumstances, it sometimes feels a little disingenuous to tell them to hang in there. For example, should I tell the woman in a chronically abusive relationship to stay and keep trying?

I woke up this morning thinking about some clients of mine in light of this idea of perseverance and wondered how I could frame for them what I believe is true? I have sometimes echoed that old preacher that the greatest human attribute is perseverance but that the second greatest is knowing when it’s time to stop persevering. That sort of gets at what I think but how about this? How about framing it as the difference between perseverance and resignation?

You see, to me perseverance implies hope whereas resignation implies loss of hope. Persevering is hanging in as long one is hoping and actively working for a brighter tomorrow. But at the point staying is a matter of being resigned to a fate and no hope for the brighter future, maybe the time has come to consider moving on. It’s sort of like that old definition of true insanity that talks about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

So I think I’m going to take the idea of perseverance as the greatest human attribute and refine it for myself to say that the greatest human attribute is to persevere in hope. You have my admiration if you are grinding to make a better marriage, a more satisfying job, or a better world. I respect your desire to give some things and some people more chances. Keep trying. Hang in. Persevere. But I also understand and respect you if it has become clear it is time to make that big change on something that’s not going to get better. Seek hope.