Sunday, March 22, 2009

ENDURANCE

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.

5 comments:

Mimi said...

Fantastic way to tie this all together, thank you!

Rozel said...

Escalating commitment: that is what we called it in business school when people stick with a business (or anything) just because they have already invested so much time and money into it that they won’t quit even if they should. Not sure why something’s I quit and something’s I painfully endure. I do think that when someone is depending on me to accomplish something, I can endure a lot more than if no one was depending on me.

As for Lent, I have always wanted to celebrate Lent but I never know when it begins. There is just something about giving up something of worldly importance so that every time it is missed I think of my Savior (I think that is what Lent is).

Belladonna said...

Rozel,

You hit on EXACTLY the way that I practice lent. I give up something to draw my thoughts closer to Christ.

As for my "adding on" things, I have chosen to pray vocally on my knees every night and morning. I've always had a very active prayer life, but lots of times I pray silently in my head and I can pray sitting, standing, driving, doing other things. Those prayers are still real and true and meaningful. But there is something more focused and fervent about praying outloud on my knees.

I've also ramped up my scripture study for the period of Lent. I ususally read a chapter every night before going to bed. I still do. But now I am also STUDYING some other spiritual writings in the mornings when I start my day.

As for the "giving up" portion - those are highly personal. But the key thing to me is every time I find myself thinking about or missing the things I've given up it triggers an IMMEDIATE focus on Christ and all he sacrificed for me.

LDS do not use written or memorized prayers. But the Orthodox have something called "The Jesus Prayer" which I have found to be useful during the fast. It's something I can turn to over and over throughout the day to push out any thoughts I do not want to give place for in my head and to return my spirit to a state of submission, gratitude, faith.

A couple years ago I attempted the full-meal-deal of vegan diet and no sex for fourty days that many Orthodox practice. I was not successful on either count and had a period of discouragement for my "failure"/"weakness".

But these day my Lent worship is different. Rather than following any prescribed "RULES" I prayerfully selected what would be most spiritually important for ME to come closer to God.

I haver really learned to appreciate this season as a very sacred time that I now look forward to every year as an opportunity to deepen my spiritual walk.

Andrea said...

Can I give up my children for Lent?

Just kidding. I really wanted to comment about the whole quitting thing, because I am a quitter by nature (at least that's the conclusion I draw when I look back on my life to-date), which used to bother me. I have lately been thinking about it a little more, and wondering why quitting gets such a bad rap. Maybe it's just me trying to rationalize my behavior, but what's wrong with recognizing when something isn't worth your time or worry, and letting it go? I constantly try to simplify my life and get rid of things that don't matter, saving myself as much stress as possible. I figure there is a time and a season for everything, and right now my season is as full as I can handle. Maybe someday I will begin to finish things I once thought were important, but for now I just do the best I can. And if that means disappointing people I don't care to impress in the first place, so be it.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Very thought-provoking post. There are times when I endured and was glad I did, and then there were times when I should have gotten out, but didn't want to be a quitter. I think we give quitters a hard time, sometimes - there are occasions when quitting can be the wisest thing to do.

As to your comment about deal breakers - there are times when someone does something that hurts us, and they repent and honestly try to do better. Then there are times when they hurt us, they don't care that they hurt us, and they don't make efforts to change. Those times, to me, would be the deal breakers. If someone is sincerely sorry and does what they can to fix the problem, in my mind that's worth giving it another shot.

Of course, this doesn't take into consideration the obvious deal-breakers like molestion, etc ... but I think we're talking more about the problems we're likely to face on a more regular basis.

Lots to think about ... as always.

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