Somewhere along the way, I ran across this quote, purportedly from Richard M. DeVos, the co-founder of Amway:
If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic that I regard as being most highly correlated with success, whatever the field, I would pick the trait of persistence. Determination. The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down 70 times and get up off the floor saying, ‘Here comes number 71!’
I really like that. It matches up with my experience of reality; it is veridical. It reminds me of Galatians 6:9: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
In grade school, I was the kid who sat up front and worked hard. But by the time high school rolled around, I realized that I had success only when I worked really hard; very little came easily to me. I was “good” at writing, but only because I spent many hours every week working at it. I was not good at math, so I quit trying and was almost immediately demoted to a remedial course. And the dominoes started to fall: I quit trying so hard and working so much on everything, and, predictably, to use my brother’s terrific phrase, “the cheese fell off my cracker”. I entered a multi-year slide into the oblivion of apathy.
When, by God’s grace, I emerged from those dark years, I rediscovered the secret I had known as a young child: Never give up. That simple, deeply profound motto has been the key to any success I have enjoyed since then, be it in marriage, career, or spiritual growth. No matter how hard it gets, no matter how high the cost, once life’s main priorities have been established (“love God, love others, make disciples” are mine, in case you were wondering), never turn back in pursuing them.
The truth is that God’s invitation to connect with Him in the life-giving way He created us to enjoy is simply a gift. I can do nothing to earn that favor. But if I would accept the invitation to follow Him, I can only do so by getting up off my butt and following — and then continuing to follow, regardless of how rough the terrain may get. As Dallas Willard writes in The Great Omission: “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.”
It is my earnest prayer that my boys will have this value ingrained in them as it was in me. No matter how hard it gets, you will only succeed if you stick with it. So crucial a mandate is this that we have adopted it as the motto of our school. And as part of our effort to learn word roots and origins, we made it all fancy-like and put it in Latin (literally, “nothing need be despaired of”):
(Here comes number 71!)