“Sorry, but I don’t feel like doing that anymore.” Flakiness is a vice that everyone can agree is a problem. We want people to be reliable, to be there when they say they will. But all too often, people just don’t follow through. Someone tells you they will be at a meeting, and they never show. A friend offers to help you move, and at the last second, you receive a text saying they won’t be there. I have friends who have had four jobs in the past two years—nothing seems to keep their attention. Couple this with the fact that divorce rates are higher than ever—between forty and fifty percent—and it seems we have a real problem. We can’t seem to sit still for more than fifteen minutes.
What is at the root of the problem? Are people just overextended? Sometimes. Do people have shorter attention spans? Almost certainly. Is it just a matter of eating less sugar and more fish? Doubtful. The problem of not being able to persevere in tasks or decisions is not solely a problem for employers, but it is also a serious spiritual problem. “The one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13). What is to become of us who cannot persevere?
There are two main afflictions that undercut our ability to follow through on what we intend to do: softness and hardheadedness. A “soft” person, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, is “one who withdraws from good on account of sorrow caused by lack of pleasure.” We don’t follow through because we are afraid that we will be bored or in pain due to what is being asked of us: Carrying couches up two flights of stairs sounds like it might hurt my back, and besides, I can’t watch a movie with a couch in my hands. Hardheadedness is the second reason we won’t show up to help our friend move. In this case, I won’t show up because I don’t see how this benefits me, especially in light of some alternative use of my time: I never get invited over to this person’s house anyway. Besides, I was hoping to get extra face time with the boss on the golf course.
The virtue of perseverance supports us in continuing a good work that may become tedious or difficult with time. It resists the evil of giving up on this good work. This virtue applies to many areas of life: school, work, relationships, and workout schedules. The importance of perseverance for marriage is obvious. While marriage is undoubtedly a great good wherein the love of God is reflected in the spouses, bearing fruit in the raising of children, marriage definitely has difficult points. The virtue of perseverance helps us in continuing to say, “I do.”
In the spiritual life, perseverance is God’s gift that keeps us with Him until the very end. This gift of the Holy Spirit keeps us in a state of grace from now until eternity, fortifying us against the monotony and the trials of life, allowing us to remain faithful until death. How do we grow in the virtue and gift of perseverance? There are three main ways we do this: prayer, practice, and people.
The first, and most important, is prayer. We cannot give ourselves a gift of the Holy Spirit or an infused (supernatural) virtue. We can only ask the Lord in His goodness for this gift we so desperately need: “Ask and it will be given to you” (Mt 7:7). God wants to give us the gifts we need to be with Him. However, He gives certain gifts according to our asking. In this way, we grow in humility and in love for the gift-giver.
The second way to grow in perseverance is through practice. We need to exercise our virtue muscles. This is mainly accomplished by resisting temptations to the opposite vice. We grow in perseverance by resisting the temptation to give up. If you pray for a virtue or gift, be prepared for growth that comes by trials. St. Catherine of Siena writes that God never leaves these prayers unanswered, so be careful what you ask for!
Finally, people help us to grow in perseverance by their example and their intercession. We can learn how to exercise a virtue or gift through the example of others. For the perfect example of perseverance we look to Christ, who suffered on a cross unto death. In contemplating Christ’s perfect perseverance, we come to a greater love for Him, a love that inspires imitation. The same is true of the saints, most especially Our Lady. By seeing how they persevered in virtue and grace in their individual circumstances and trials, we not only learn how to put these same virtues into practice, but we also discover new friends who will help us from Heaven.
Although perseverance is not the chief virtue (that honor belongs to charity), it is certainly a virtue that needs to be rediscovered so that we can lead lives of both natural and supernatural goodness. Who wants their heart to be swept away by every passing interest? Our hearts are made for more. They are made to be like God, who does not change. Through the virtue and gift of perseverance we become stable like God. Through perseverance our hearts are no longer restless, but come to rest in Him.
Image: Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, Dream of Lying and Inconstancy