It’s a word that’s been lingering in the background of my life the last couple of years. Sometimes a whispered encouragement. Sometimes a challenge, a goal I feel too tired to achieve.
It can sound inspiring – like when we hear it attributed to Olympic athletes who have endured bruises, blisters, long practices, the giving up of lesser things to experience the greater. We see these athletes competing in the games, maybe standing on a podium, and it seems noble and inspiring.
But by definition, the nature of persistence requires opposition.
So what about the times persisting looks more like stubborn? What about the times the end is not in sight, the win doesn’t seem like a sure thing, and in the face of sustained or repeated failure, persisting looks more like banging your head against a wall?
Let me tell you a story.
A year and a half ago, around the time of his birthday, my son persisted in asking for a female gecko. He had a dream of starting a gecko breeding business, and a female gecko was the necessary counterpoint to his male gecko. I wasn’t excited. I tried to talk him out of it. I told him that a dream like that would come with a cost. If he followed this dream he’d be out time and money.
He was more persistent than we were. He got the gecko.
Having planned and researched in advance, he expected gecko eggs to appear in 4-6 weeks. To my surprise, eggs appeared close to schedule.
With proper care, he could expect baby geckos in about 120 days. So we waited. I waited passively, watching. My son waited actively, busy doing what needed to be done in the wait. He spent his money on an extra tank and special dirt. Each time he found an egg, he moved it safely to its own tank, nestled it into the dirt, and faithfully spritzed it with water. This is how he waited.
I waited, he worked, and egg after egg collapsed. Over and over and over for a year and a half. When you’re just barely into double-digits, a year and a half is a long time. When you’re an imperfect, over-protective mom, it’s just as long.
I wanted to step in and short-circuit his project. I knew the costs were running higher than he’d expected. I knew it was taking longer than he’d anticipated. With each disappointing egg collapse, I wanted to offer him empty words that would cause him to give up – maybe our house isn’t the right temperature, maybe there’s something wrong with the female gecko. I reasoned that surely the hurt of giving up, fast, like ripping off a band-aide, might hurt more at first, but it would be easier than the long, slow, ripping away.
I wanted to tell him to give up because that’s what I felt like doing. Not with the geckos. I had bigger problems than infertile gecko eggs. I was tired of watching time, money, energy, and hope get poured into something I worried would only collapse.
I wanted to give up, but how could I when my son persisted? When he carried on and carried through, even though it was costing more and taking longer than he could have imagined it would, could I do less?
About six months ago, his gecko laid two eggs and was done. Though he regularly searches, there has been no more. He nestled the last evidence of hope into the dirt.
And then, on a Sunday morning!
A joyful shout came from his room. My son ran down the hallway, a little wild-eyed with wonder carrying a box of dirt. The eggs had hatched.
Those last two eggs that had lain dormant in the dirt for over five months. Those two eggs that he’d checked on before going to bed the night before, like he did every night, eggs long past the point of expectation, now lay open and two baby geckos crawled around in his box of dirt.
My son had a double portion of hope. Hope for now – new baby geckos, admittedly cute, which would be fun to care for and watch grow – and hope for the future – he will keep searching the dirt for new eggs and if they appear, they will be a promise. There is an outcome for persistence. What appears to be dead and buried in dirt will have an implication for the future.
Ultimately, that’s why people persist, right? Because they are sure that there is something on the other side of what they are seeing or experiencing in the present. That there is something different than what they’ve known in the past.
That Sunday morning, after hope broke through, I went to my room and cried a little. Some tears because I was ashamed at my lack of persistence; my desire to give up and give in.
Some tears from fear. New life has fragile beginnings. I heard the results of my son’s research. Baby geckos are delicate. They can loose toes and tails in the shedding process. Being young and inexperienced, they can be in the presence of nourishing food and still starve.
Caring for the eggs had been an exercise in faith. The next part of the journey would be too. There is still no guarantee my son’s investment will pay off.
How does my son embark on this new journey? He reads to find out what he needs to know, and then he puts it into practice. Several times a day he checks little gecko toes for skin that clings too tightly. Each day he not only puts out food, he leads them to it. He persists because he hopes.
Do you feel like whatever it is you are pouring your time and energy and hope into, might not pay off? I sometimes do. I pour myself into my children, but I don’t have guarantees. I put myself into my words, but sometimes writing can feel like throwing words, thoughts, parts of myself, out into the dark.
Who is reading? What are the circumstances, you, the reader, need to persist in and endure through? What words could offer hope when there seems to be none? How does a tired person encourage tired people with words that are not tired?
By pointing you to words that are not her own.
When you don’t feel like it, especially when you don’t feel like it. Look around you – all of creation encourages it. Gecko eggs hatch.
Flowers bloom in deserts.
Winter gives way to spring.
What appears to be dead is not. Persist because there is something on the other side of that dirt and that darkness and the created order shouts it.
It wasn’t just my son’s gecko eggs that broke open on a Sunday morning when hope was dark and dry. Persist because the Creator of the universe broke the bonds of despair and defeat on a Sunday morning when hope seemed long past its expiration date. Persist because in His Word, the Creator promises that there is something on the other side of the dirt and the darkness. Persist because only a Creator can know what He is making in the dark and the dirt.
Persist. Endure. Continue firmly. Carry on. Carry through. Don’t throw hope away.