Midweek Faith Lift
September 27, 2017
“Screw Your Courage to the Sticking Place—Tenacity!”
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
We have arrived at the last Sunday for our exploration of the spiritual Light of Strength. All month long we have been cultivating our Spiritual Spine, allowing our yes to be “Yes!” and our no to be “No!” Bringing together the power of Wisdom and Strength, we have cultivated our stand-ability to stand in spiritual Truth. And we have cultivated courage, which also puts the energy of Zeal, Love, Faith and Power into our experience of Strength. Our mantra has been the Serenity Prayer, saying:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference.
Our practice has been to ground our feet in our spiritual stand-ability with one hand on our solar plexus, which is the seat of Wisdom in our body and the other on the lower back, which is the seat of Strength. Anchored in this way, our practice has been BIBO—Breathe In, Breath Out. So let’s do that one more time together…..Breathe In, Breathe Out.
Our faculty of Strength for today is tenacity; it is the third side of our holy Trinity of Strength, the others being stability and courage. We can best describe tenacity as persistence. And the best illustration of our human experience of persistence comes from small children. Witness the following:
Now mom says no, but if she gives in, well, it is all over for her because Nathan learns that this kind of persistence really pays off big time. He just has to learn where her breaking point is and then go a little bit beyond that…and presto! He gets the car! And whatever else she is willing to give him to stop the whining. This is how persistence gets rewarded and strengthened in our human experience. And when it is a grown up, it is not a pretty picture. More on that in a bit!
It is pretty powerful stuff when our whining gets rewarded! In my family, that is NOT how it worked. Whining got you in “time out” and for sure you didn’t get what you wanted! I only had to try that a few times to realize it was a dead end path. On the other hand, just asking for what I wanted did not always get the desired result either, except on Christmas and my birthday. That is our quandary with tenacity! Our first lessons in persistence come from our parents and other adults and those lessons can be pretty confusing. Some of us can learn to just keep whining and we eventually get what we want. Others just stop wanting and settle for what we don’t really want because we believe that is all there is. Surely there is some Spiritual path of tenacity that lifts us out of this mess, this human dilemma of tenacity and our human habit of wanting and whining.
Here is how the Free Online Dictionary defines tenacity:
- Extremely persistent in adhering to or doing something; stubborn or relentless.
- Characterized by extreme persistence; relentless or enduring: tenacious detective work; tenacious superstitions, tenacious rumors. (that one reminds me of the old Detective show Colombo!)
- Holding together firmly; cohesive: a tenacious material.
- Clinging to another object or surface; adhesive: tenacious lint.
- Tending to retain; retentive: a tenacious memory.
All of these definitions seem to be the antithesis, the direct opposite of the Serenity Prayer, don’t they? As I thought about this, I wondered about whether being stubborn or relentless could ever be a good thing. When is it a good thing to “screw my courage to the sticking place?” And how do I know? When I chose that title for the talk today, I knew it was from Shakespeare, but I did not know which play. It is from Macbeth and Lady Macbeth says it to her husband as they are plotting a murder. Oops! That is human persistence or tenacity running down a blind alley for sure! She is challenging him to have the courage to follow through on this awful deed for their mutual gain. Tenacity run amok once again!
Is there a more positive spin on tenacity, I wondered? Then I searched a bit more and found this definition in the Oxford English Dictionary:
Tenacity: the quality of being determined to do or achieve something; firmness of purpose; “his determination showed in his every movement”; “he is a man of purpose”
Having determination to do or achieve something seems a bit more positive to me as a way to describe tenacity. Rev. Linda adds the word stamina to the definition of tenacity and describes tenacity as providing us “staying power.” She describes the behavior of a caterpillar as it made its way across the patio table and then down the leg of the table. The critter would push its body into the void until it connected with something solid and then fling all the rest of its body onto the solid surface. She noted: “Every time it came to an abyss, it paused long enough to feel its way to the next solid ground” (p.155) Perhaps that is how we feel our way forward….by the power of tenacity. And she continues, “Persisting non-anxiously is the activity of tenacity.”
I wish I had read that section in Divine Audacity on Sunday night…the one about persisting non-anxiously. As some of you may know, I am in the process of looking for a new (used) car which requires considerable strength and persistence….Tenacity with a capital “T.” I have been using a LOT of human persistence, kinda like Nathan in the video. If the truth be told, I could be heard whining on Monday morning, “I want a car!” I had found what I thought was the right one, but I could not get through to the Credit Union or to Hickman Auto, my mechanic to schedule a time for them to look at it. Finally, I gave up and took a shower.
That should have been enough to get the message through…this was proving too difficult. Listen up, Deb! When it is this difficult, it is time to pay attention. Naw….I want this car! I like this car! I don’t know what it is about Strength, but this whole month I have been LIVING this power by being challenged regularly to let my Yes be Yes and my No be No and trying to figure out which one I really want to say. I wanted to say yes, but then I did get the car looked at and they told me it was ok except for the rust….that could be a deal breaker. The guys at Hickman Auto said not to buy it unless they fixed the rust.
The car dealer had told me they preferred I NOT take it to my mechanic ahead of time; I had up to 5 days after the purchase to return it and get my money back. That did not sit well, and I did not comply with their request and now there was a problem with the car and I could not ignore it.And still, I wanted that car! Oh Nathan, I feel your pain! I took it back to the dealer and said yes, when in my heart I knew it was a no! BUT I PERSISTED! Nathan, I understand you…I want a car. I said to myself, I will sleep on it.
But I could not sleep. All night long, all the little things that did not feel right about this whole experience just wouldn’t be quiet. All night long, I had this agitated, anxious energy. Todd was not home, so I couldn’t talk it over with him. By about 5:30 AM it was pretty clear that I was not going to buy this car. Then I rehearsed what I was going to say to justify it, completely forgetting, “No is a complete sentence, Deb!”
What was missing in all this anxious energy? Well, prayer for one thing! And so I began to just pray the prayer of Breathe In, Breathe Out! And I did that until I got up at 7:30 AM from my literally sleepless night, by now very clear that this was not my car. As I sat down to write this talk on Tuesday, I wondered if there was a Scripture on persistence that reflected my experience and this is what I found.
Trial and Temptation
12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. (NRSV)
As I struggled with this decision and saying no to a fairly aggressive car salesman, struggling with what I wanted versus settling for what I thought I could have, I realized that tenacity for me was to endure the temptation of this car through to the place where I had a clear and determined yes or no. When I was able to pray and sit in meditation that morning, it was then clear what my next steps were. I called the Credit Union to cancel my appointment for the financing and I got right through this time. Then, an email came in with the salesman’s email right there! OK, so just email him that the car has rust and you are not buying it!
Now what? Well, email that nice young man at the Acura dealership who really wants my business….more will be revealed!
The Spiritual Spine of the Power of Strength says that persistence in this car search will yield fruit when Spirit is in the driver’s seat, not me!
Blessings on the Road,