I've been thinking a lot about endurance lately, for a number of reasons.
Reason #1: We are about in the middle of Lent. While my own faith does not have any formal observations of this period before Easter, and does not give any particular significance to the season, through the influence of my Orthodox friends I have studied and pondered and practiced my own version of Lent fasts for each of the past four years. When I started out at the beginning of this Lent season I had three different things I was giving up and three other things that I was going to do differently to give myself a framework for focused spiritual growth.
I did pretty well the first couple weeks. But one by one my commitment to each of those things got increasingly shaky. Some I fell from and then got right back to doing again, others I just plain gave up on. So I've been thinking about that some.
Reason #2: The marriage of someone I know and care about recently broke up and another friend of mine is seriously considering leaving her husband. It has made me ponder the whole notion of "deal breakers". EVERY marriage has its problems. Some are worth working through. Some are not. But as I have grieved with these people over the lost dreams of their marriages in ruins it has made me wonder about when it makes sense to endure dark, difficult days and when it is better to walk away.
Whether it be a painful marriage, a stressful job, or a commitment to a group we no longer believe in or support...when is it best to stick by the promises we have made and when is it ethical and sound to change paths despite what we said we would do?
Reason #3: I was reading the book Lone Survivor for my virtual book club, Page Nibblers. My posting there describes why I gave up less than a third of the way through in reading that book that is very much about endurance.
One of the things I said over there was: "I believe some pain is there to make us stronger, and enduring that pain is ultimately for our own good. There are other kinds of pain that are there as a message to change course quick for our safety and best interest, screaming out "hey, dummy, take your hand off that hot stove!"
The trick is in sorting out which is which."
I would add to that there is also some pain that is neither instructive nor warning - it just IS. But if we can short cut that nuisance sort of pain, I certainly do not see it as character weakness. Doing things the hard way just for the sake of saying you had the chops to endure it makes no sense to me.
In reading the scriptures, there are frequent references to "enduring to the end". Flash in the pan righteousness seems to be of no interest to God. He wants people who can go the distance in being good. He wants me to learn to Endure. When I did an online word search for the word "endure" in the scriptures it showed up 53 times.
So I'm thinking a lot about the things that I am willing to endure and the things that I balk at. I'm thinking about what sort of things I tend to avoid and what things I just plain give up on.
When is it smart to walk away something negative and when should I stand my ground?
What is accomplished by enduring that which can be avoided? What limits and boundaries just plain make sense?
I gave birth both times by "natural" childbirth, choosing to forgo any pain medication that was offered. I believed it was better for me and for the baby to permit my body to experience the pain of bringing new life into the world.
Years ago I completed the Avon 3 day walk for breast cancer, walking approximately 60 miles from Enumclaw to Seattle, despite the fact that I fell and twisted my ankle the first morning out. Some said I was being foolish, that the smart thing to do would have been to get onto the rescue van in light of my injury. But I was determine to finish the event, and I did.
I finished grad school despite piles of bureacratic nonsense and hoops to jump through, but quit law school after just half a term. I am absolutely committed to my current marriage, but left my first one after seven years.
I don't like to think of myself as a quitter...but I have clearly quit on my share of paths that I had intended to pursue. Some of those made sense, in light of new information or shifted circumstances that changed my power or willingness to follow through. Some were just because the thing I set out to do got too painful or too hard.
When is endurance tenacity to be admired and when it is just plain bull headedness that goes against all common sense? What kind of criteria makes sense for determining when to hold on and when to let go?
I have no answers...but I'll keep pondering the question.