Many of us are feeling some fatigue. The Coronavirus has brought significant losses to many and has made nearly everything we do or would like to do more difficult or even impossible. When this CCE Corner is posted, we may not yet know who will be president in 2021. Even when we do know the results of the election, we may still feel fatigued by this long and tiring political season. Along with this, we face cultural upheaval which gives every indication of continuing. Speaking around the time of the birth of our nation, Samuel Adams observed: “The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance.” The same is true today, and so, as we begin the second quarter, we turn our focus to the virtue of perseverance.
The idea of perseverance may bring to mind images of an athlete training, a musician practicing, a farmer plowing his field, or soldiers courageously performing their duty, or it may bring to mind the simple childhood poem, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…” The verb “persevere” comes from the Latin “perseverare” which means “continue steadfastly, persist” so all of these images seem appropriate, but there is an even deeper meaning found within the classical Christian tradition. Christian writers often used a synonym for perseverance–“diligence”. The Latin root for diligence is “diligere” which means to respect or esteem, to love. It may sound strange, but perseverance or diligence is not merely staying the course or gutting it out, it is an expression of love.
We might understand this better if we look at the opposite of perseverance: sloth. In her book Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung describes sloth as “resistance to the demands of love.” The Greek word for “sloth” is “akedeia” and it means “lack of care.” Sloth is apathy—an indifference to duty and neglect of others. This indifference and neglect can be demonstrated in both laziness and busy distractions. In short, it is failing to do what we are supposed to do, and it is not an insignificant vice. According to DeYoung, the early church fathers and the medieval monks who followed them considered sloth a sin not merely because it leaves things undone but because it is evidence of an underlying opposition to love of God and neighbor and the obligations that this love places on us.
By contrast, we embrace love of God and neighbor and the obligations that this love places on us when we are diligent in our work, when we fulfill our duties even if we do not feel like it. Such perseverance is a central part of the Christian life involving daily sacrifices, little deaths of our selfish nature, so that we may love God and serve our neighbors better and become the new creations our Lord intends.
As we saw with the virtue of compassion, a classical Christian educational community is well-suited to help students, staff, and families cultivate the virtue of perseverance. We show love for God and a desire to be His new creations by diligently learning together about His world and His word and by persevering in the renewal of our hearts and minds. We show our love for others by contributing well to the learning environment and community. A more specific way perseverance is cultivated is through the rigor of the curriculum. Our students typically engage with more difficult material than their peers at other schools—history, Latin, Greek, logic, advanced math, English grammar, classic literature, frequent essay-writing, world-view discussions—all these provide daily opportunities for diligence and perseverance on the part of students and patient encouragement and perseverance on the part of teachers and parents too. High behavioral standards, a sense of responsibility for self and others, and respect for authority (be that Scripture, teachers, parents, or great minds throughout history) are central to who we are as an educational community; these too require diligence and perseverance. At times, we may be tempted by an easier path; but as with training in any worthy endeavor, we grow stronger with the labor and we delight in its fruits.