Perseverance isn't pretty

by Heather Kendrick

Perseverance isn’t pretty. That’s what I thought as I passed the mirror this morning. My eyes were red and swollen from crying and had rings underneath from my swim goggles. My hair was, honestly, indescribable, after being pony-tailed for my run then thrust into the swim cap for my swim lesson . . . and I had thrown on my favorite sweats (more like pajamas) to dash out the door. 

“Not pretty” was really a nice understatement.    

I’m training for my first triathlon. I’ve never known how to swim, so I’m taking swimming lessons for the first time. The process has been one of introspection and challenge, to say the least. Learning something new as an adult is extremely difficult. It is so frustrating to try so hard at something only to have to get back up and try again. All morning I had been battling thoughts inside my head that said, “You can’t do this. Why are you doing this? Do you really think you can do this?”  

So honestly my first thought when I saw the mirror was, “Okay. I quit.” 

That haggard appearance was enough to make me want to throw in the towel (literally!) and say, “Enough is enough” and “I don’t even know why I am doing this” and “I can live my life without doing a triathlon.”

And then this verse popped into my mind.

“The testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1: 3-4

And then I had that thought. 

“Perseverance isn’t pretty.” 

And I started thinking about all the things in life that require our perseverance. And you know what? NONE of them are pretty. 

Look at the runner on mile 20 of that marathon. Think of the cancer patient enduring the chemo treatments that will save her life. These are ugly moments. 

Sweating and straining to complete those last few reps when strength training is not pretty, that’s where you get stronger. Kids learning to ride their bikes without the training wheels – it takes a lot of skinned knees and actual blood, sweat and tears for that first ride down the street to happen. It’s not pretty getting there. 

And what about childbirth? The biggest miracle on earth is sure not a pretty one. It takes hard work and concentrated effort to persevere through labor, but at the end, the reward is unparalleled.

“Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, character and hope. And hope does not disappoint us.” Romans 5: 3-5

For me, Jesus on the cross is the ultimate picture of perseverance. He endured and fought to the end, and not even for His own gain. He suffered for us. His pain was for the people He loved. It produced, for Him, the ultimate goal, the ultimate sacrifice. He achieved what He set out all along to accomplish: He saved His children. He knew what He had to do, and He set His gaze on the finish line and never looked back. 

Even when things got hard, He followed through on His promise all the way until death – a slow, painful, mocking death on the cross. Now THAT’s a picture of perseverance.

I heard a great quote recently: “The ability to go the extra mile is found in between your ears.” If you think about that, it’s really true. 

The power to persevere is in our minds. If we believe we can do something, if we are determined enough to do it, we can do it. It may not be pretty – actually, it will not be pretty – but we can and we WILL do it. 

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who was afraid of hard work, and those who know me know I’m definitely not afraid to sweat, but I needed this reminder about fighting to the finish line of a goal. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be pretty. If it’s a fight, it’s going to get uncomfortable and ugly. Sometimes we just have to hang on and tough it out. But in the end, it’s 100 percent worth it.

So I’m determined to not shy away from the pain or the “not pretty” of this process. I’m back in that pool trying to persevere and power through toward my goal. I know there’s a long way to go. It’s not going to be pretty. But I know the finish line won’t disappoint. See you there.