Perseverance is that essential quality we all seem to want — or need badly — when we are trying to complete a challenging task. But exactly what is meant by perseverance? Basically, it means persistence, determination and steadfastness. What makes this virtue so necessary but so fleeting?
Perhaps we should look back in history at a great person who demonstrated this ideal to give us some insight. Abraham Lincoln, our country’s 16th president, comes to mind, as he seemed to persevere more in life than many other people. While we now revere this man who ended slavery and the Civil War, he faced years and years of defeat and personal tragedies before becoming president.
As a child, his family lost their home in 1816, so he had to work to support them. Two years later, his mother died. He failed at his first business in 1831, then ran for political office in 1832 — the Illinois state legislature — and lost. That same year, he also lost a job and applied to law school but was denied entrance. The next year, he borrowed money from a friend to start a business and was bankrupt by the end of the year. It took him 17 years to pay off that debt.
The next year, 1834, Lincoln ran again for state legislature and actually won, however, in 1835, his fiancée died — which caused a nervous breakdown for him in 1836. He spent six months in bed.
He again ran for office in 1838, to become speaker of the state legislature, and was defeated. Two years later, he tried to become an elector and was again defeated. Lincoln then ran for Congress in 1843 and lost. Not giving up, he ran for Congress once again and won, working in Washington successfully. Two years later, he ran for re-election to Congress and lost. A year later, he applied for the job of land officer in Illinois and was rejected.
Continuing to persevere, Lincoln ran for the United States Senate in 1854 and lost. Two years later, Lincoln tried to win the vice-presidential nomination at the Republican convention and got less than 100 votes. Continuing his quest, Lincoln ran for the U.S. Senate again in 1858 and lost. Two years later, his perseverance paid off, as Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States.
Thinking about Lincoln’s determination and his legacy can be a model for us, as we strive in our daily lives to complete goals and not give in to failure or difficulties or doors closing on us.
The Holy Writings often mention this, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, son of the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote, “Praise God that in tests thou art firm and steadfast … Thou art not shaken by any affliction or disturbed by any calamity. Not until man is tried doth the pure gold distinctly separate from the dross. Torment is the fire of test wherein the pure gold shineth resplendently and the impurity is burned and blackened. At present thou art, praise be to God, firm and steadfast in tests and trials and art not shaken by them.”
How can we learn this behavior of perseverance? As in so many areas of our lives, we can take steps to learn to persevere. Begin by focusing on a goal and giving yourself plenty of self-help messages (which basically means focus on the positive). Break a goal into smaller parts and create a calendar or schedule to achieve this goal. Try meditation, as it may help keep you focused on your goal.
Additionally, many books highlight perseverance, some of which we read as children, when it was easy to understand the message: “The Little Engine That Could” shows the value of trying over and over again, “Brave Irene” tells of the little girl helping her sick mother by delivering the duchess’ ball gown as she battled a snowstorm while walking on foot to the castle, “Colorful Dreamer” is about Henri Matisse continuing to paint even when it took a long time for people to notice his artwork (and when he became ill and could not paint, he created art by cutting out colored paper pieces, thus enduring even with a disability).
When we find ourselves working hard but becoming frustrated because the path is not always smooth, we can always turn to God and his teachings. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá mentioned, “We must strive to attain that condition by being separated from all things and from the people of the world and by turning to God alone. It will take some effort on the part of man to attain to that condition, but he must work for it, strive for it. We can attain to it by thinking and caring less for material things and more for the spiritual. The further we go from the one, the nearer we are to the other. The choice is ours. Our spiritual perception, our inward sight must be opened, so that we can see the signs and traces of God’s spirit in everything. Everything can reflect to us the light of the Spirit.”
Susan Haines is a retired teacher and reading specialist who found the Baha’i faith as a teenager, traveling to a Baha’i Summer Institute, Green Acre, in Maine. Having lived in Frederick County for over 40 years, she serves as the Baha’i public information officer for the Baha’is of Frederick.