This post is going to be fairly similar to one that I wrote a few weeks ago entitled “Satisfaction is not in my nature.” Today I’m taking a slightly different approach to an issue, or constellation of issues, that I wrestle with a lot.
If you read a post I wrote about a year ago, “I am not fast,” you know that I’m a little cocky about having a high degree of what is, admittedly, an unglamorous character quality: endurance, persistence, tenacity, grit…whatever you want to call it. Basically, it takes a lot to make me quit. That last term, grit, has become a buzzword in psychology and education over the past few years. Studies are now showing, or at least we’re being told that they are, that grit is a better indicator of success in college than IQ or even high school GPA. And other studies are corroborating the common-sense conclusion that grit remains a useful characteristic in various areas of one’s life, including career and relationships.
So even though it’s not as exciting as being fast or amazingly creative or highly articulate, having grit has become a bit of a source of pride for me. It’s closely related to a quality that I’ve often been complimented on since childhood: being disciplined. With that one, it’s a little easier to see how I could start to become smug and feel morally superior to people who do hit the snooze button at least once before they wake up.
In several of my recent posts, I referred to a book I read recently, The Gift of Being Yourself by David G. Benner. It’s actually the second book in Benner’s Spiritual Journey trilogy, of which I’m now reading the last book, Desiring God’s Will. (For no strategic reason, I will be reading the first book, Surrender to Love, last–that’s just the order in which I acquired them.) Benner has spent the first couple of chapters of Desiring God’s Will shattering my pride in being disciplined. While he doesn’t completely discount the value of self-control (after all, it’s one of the fruits of the Spirit) he shows, from Scripture and common-sense observation, that discipline can lead to pride and rigidity and–most disturbingly–lead us to believe we don’t need God, and therefore cause us to pass ignorantly by the surprising blessings that God reserves for those who gladly participate in the fulfillment of his kingdom.
Having demolished my pride in being disciplined, Benner goes a step further in the section I read this morning and casts doubt on the unqualified value of grit (though he doesn’t use that word or refer to any of the recent scholarship on the topic). Heretically (especially to American readers), Benner posits that there are times when it may be not only okay to quit, but even sinfully stubborn not to quit. I need to go back and read the section again to make sure I really understand, but I think he’s right. I can think of one situation in my recent life in which I probably should have given up on something a lot sooner than I did. It makes me cringe to write that, but there it is.
As I’m reading this book, I keep thinking about Perelandra, the second novel in C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and the Adam and Eve-like characters who lived on a floating island and had absolutely no control over where they went. They just had to trust their creator. Could I live like that?