When Perseverance Ends in Disappointment

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She has fire in her heart.

Some call her competitive, but the longing in her eye seems deeper than wanting to win. The intensity of purpose and the drive to get there — I watch her up close and I study from afar, and I wonder exactly where God will take her with all of this.

But she does like to win.

She once finished 12th out of about 200 runners, and it pained her to not be in the top 10. So she trained by herself after school and brought her ache to the next race. She started out strong — so strong I wondered if her speed would hurt her in the end. But as the two-miles unfolded, it was clear our daughter was the girl in first place.

It was an odd race, for it was co-ed. In all the other middle school cross country meets, the guys and girls ran separately — two races during the one meet. But this day they ran together. I assumed it was simply to be efficient. I assumed it was still really two races going on at the same time with all the runners just woven together.

Assumptions are hard.

As she neared the finish line, I let my heart start to celebrate. “She’s going to be thrilled,” I thought. “She showed up. She didn’t choke on past disappointment. She really is going to win that blue ribbon.”

As she crossed the finish line, a woman handed my girl a tiny square of paper, her place number. She glanced down, chest heaving deep, and crumpled it up. “Is she trying to be humble? Why isn’t she celebrating?”

I moved toward her and was met with a blank face.

“I got 24th,” she said through a clenched jaw.

And indeed she had. I opened the tiny paper, and 24 was written unashamedly in black marker. It was a confusing moment. I went from self-restraint (not wanting to celebrate too early)… to silent, internal cheers… to greeting her with joy… to figuring out how to comfort — all in a matter of two minutes.

We thought she was winning the whole time, for we could only see boys ahead of her. But the runners we ignored suddenly had meaning. They were the ones winning, and we didn’t know. They were her competitors, and we were completely unaware.

All that mental toughness between this race and the last — all the physical endurance of the last two miles — was any of it worth it now?


Have you been there?

Have you moved forward with determination despite resistance? Even when circumstances whispered unanswered questions and you doubted yourself to the core? Have you been running “your race with endurance” only for the story to end wrong?

I’ve seen marriages broken and children wandering and illness that ends in death and unfulfilled job searches and empty cradles after in vitro. I’ve seen re-addiction after recovery and unraveling after remission and disappointment after promises. I’ve seen perseverance end with threats of insecurity and doubt and self-loathing and disunity.

Have you seen that, too?

The disappointment that comes after a long season of perseverance is sometimes harder than tragedy that takes you by surprise. Our expectations get high, too high, and we believe there’s eventually victory for the one with enough grit.


As quickly as our joy unraveled, I heard Him say, “This is about so much more than a race. This is hardly about running at all.” I knew her Maker was right, but I didn’t like His story for our family in that moment. I would have written my daughter’s page differently that day.

“But she persevered, Lord. And she worked so hard. And she hoped.

Maybe those moments — maybe our moments — are really about something else:
… Finding my identity in what Christ did for me on the cross. Period. Instead of achievements.
… Knowing I am loved deeply regardless of what number is scribbled on my place paper.
… Believing the lesson that striving leaves me empty.
… Growing trust instead of resentment.


I ache for the Sutherland Springs community: The loved ones grieving with empty arms… The little ones asking “Why?”… The grandmas and dads and those stuck in mid-life asking “Why” and having no answer to offer themselves… The silence and the forever night.

I wonder if any of the 26 victims were in a season of perseverance before death disrupted their hope. Was anyone battling cancer? Were any digging deep in their hearts to rebuild their marriages? Were any kids enrolled in tutoring to satisfy grade-level standards? What were they all enduring? I’m certain — because I know we live in brokenness — I’m certain some had to have been gathering up courage every day, clinging to a hope we can’t explain. And their perseverance was met with… oh why, Lord?

What now, God?

What now for the hundreds of people who knew them well and loved them through their frail, brave humanity? What now for those left behind facing their own seasons of perseverance?

Hope does not disappoint us… God, help me believe you.


“You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 NLT

I see You’re writing a story with our tears, God. Help us reconcile the confusion. Weave in trust if reconciliation never comes.

“I waited a long time for the Eternal;
    He finally knelt down to hear me.
    He listened to my weak and whispered cry.
He reached down and drew me
    from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay.
    With a gentle hand, He pulled me out
To set me down safely on a warm rock;
    He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again. Psalm 40:1-2

 

Photo by Terry French

Choosing Substance: Surrender (Day 9)

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My intentions are not always yours,
        and I do not go about things as you do.
     My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you,
        just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth. Isaiah 55:8-9

A woman of substance rests in the knowledge of God’s sovereignty even when she doesn’t understand. Especially when she doesn’t understand.

She steps on the path of faith — even though it’s unknown. For faith is not seeing what’s at the end. Faith is knowing Who is at the end.

She doesn’t have to know because she doesn’t have to control. She smashed that idol of control long ago. And even though it still whispers to her when she’s scared, and even though she may temporarily weaken and heed it’s ugly advice — she no longer bows down to it. No, her life and relationships and worldview are no longer slaves to it.

She doesn’t have to understand those around her, for her eyes are fixed on the One who created them all. Because she knows the Source, she doesn’t get all tangled up in the unraveling fragments here on earth. She heeds Peter’s dare and chooses sympathy and compassion and humility. She pays back the bad with a blessing. She pays back the hurt and the insult with more grace. (I Peter 3:8-9)

She doesn’t have to know what the future holds. Her spirit of peace and strength and calm transcends the uncomfortable mysteries because she knows the Author of her story.  She breathes deep, accepting her role as character instead of writer. She doesn’t fight for rank. Instead, she clings to the cross, the dying to self, on those days when Satan woos her to value this world instead of what she knows to be true. (Luke 9:23)

My intentions are not always yours…
     For as rain and snow can’t go back once they’ve fallen,
        but soak into the ground
    And nourish the plants that grow…
     So it is when I declare something.
        My word will go out and not return to Me empty…
        it will accomplish what I determined. Isaiah 55:8,10-11

Atypical weather patterns, warmer-than-normal December afternoons — it’s what we’re seeing out our window in Saint Louis these days. If you’re used to snow, or used to hoping for snow at Christmas, rain is an unwelcome replacement.

But whether you see the Artist blanketing the earth with snow, or you see Him choosing a gray palette and rain, both the pristine and the gray soak into the ground and nourish. His words, whether they’re what we want to hear or not, whether they’re tender whispers or shouts of strength, whether they’re promises that we happen to value here on earth or they’re mysteries we won’t understand until Heaven — His words will never return empty to Him. All of His words will accomplish what He determined.

Yes, a woman of substance rests in the knowledge of God’s sovereignty especially when she doesn’t understand.

On the ninth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the courage to trust.

…He rules the world with truth and grace*…


Choosing Substance

  • Read again Isaiah 55:8-11.
  • What circumstance is clashing with your desire to “have faith”?
  • Do you fight the tendency to define faith as “everything works out the way we want it to”? Where did this worldview or doctrine come from?
  • Ask God to reveal how He has changed you, transformed you, sanctified you by not giving you what you want. How has He “renewed” your inner self?
  • How are you defining a Person of Substance?

photo source | Aaron Wilson
*song excerpt | Joy to the World

Skiing Blind

Image “We would like to picture goodness as being synonymous with safety… We find ourselves caught up in an adventure of heroic proportions with a God who both seduces us with his boldness and energy and repels us with his willingness to place us in mortal danger…”  Brent Curtis, The Sacred Romance
A few years back we returned home from a week of skiing to find spring unfolded all over our city.  It’s amazing what time will do to the hope held underneath the hard, dark cold of winter.  And while it feels almost disrespectful to regress into snow and ice, beauty is sometimes born from the deadest of seasons.  And from the darkness.
The final day of our trip was spent with an old friend who stood beside us as we spoke our vows of forever at the altar.  Years later, he holds season passes at a mountain, so it was a natural place to meet.  But what I saw was anything but “natural”.  At least by my own, limited definition.
Throughout the day, I watched blind skiers conquer run after run.  Paired with volunteer guides, they made their way to “safety” through the paths of challenge.  And determination… and exhilaration… and, well, trust.
I saw grown women and men donned in neon “BLIND SKIER” vests.  I saw a little girl with braids, my daughter’s age, wearing that same vest.  They were skiing better than me, holding heaps of more trust that I ever could.  As I clutched my poles to ease the fear of steeper runs, blind people were tackling moguls. Seriously.
It was good, for sure.  But was it safe?  Not really. We crave novels and plays and movies with drama.  We yearn for a plot rich in meaning, for without tension, the story’s not worth our time.  We reserve the right to close a book or walk out on a movie when we can bear the boring no more. But in real life, we hate it.  We hate the drama twisting with unpredictability as it wrings our very hearts.  We scorn the uncertainty of what we can not see, and we’re ashamed of what we can’t control.

 

“His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I can not.” Jeremiah 20:9

The Master Playwright, He woos the drama out of us, inviting us to paint stokes on His grand canvas like blind skiers adorn a fresh hill.  He beckons forth the fire to match the scene playing out in our lives.  Truth prevails in His Story, and He pulls the truth right out of our hearts — the painful truth burning like a fire within us.

As the winter dying is the unavoidable way to spring, our current mystery and pain will eventually join with now unseen paths.  Meaning, understanding, clarity — they await our current trust, but maybe not until the other side of eternity.

It might not be safe.  And it will definitely not be boring. And on that run is our Master Guide, conquering the swift, the steep, the fear with us.