Thursday, July 15, 2010


‘...we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’ (Romans 5:3-5)

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ (James 1:2-4)

One of the things we want our children to learn is the discipline of perseverance: how to not give up until you have secured something. At the moment, one of the ways we are doing that is through music lessons. Most of the time, they enjoy these, but every now and then (usually towards the end of a school term, when they are tired) they object to having to go. Now, there’s a balance to be found – forcing a child to do something extra-curricular that they haven’t to some degree become a stakeholder in can be incredibly counter-productive. And it may be that, beyond a certain level, one or other of them decides not to pursue music, and to focus their attention on some other skill. But for now we are still at the stage where they need to go through their scales, over and over again.

One of the things I observe is that the generation born since 1980 lack perseverance. They get excited about this thing or that thing, but can’t press through the stage of conscious incompetence. But in learning to master anything, this stage is not only unavoidable, but actually a significant point in developing character.

What is significant is the extent to which this generation have not been allowed to develop perseverance by their parents, the youngest of the Baby Boomers and the oldest Generation Xers. Their own experience of childhood involved a degree of what is currently being called ‘austerity’ that, as a generation, they vowed their children would not have to experience. Moreover, as a society we have embraced credit as a means of eliminating the perseverance of saving up for something – as a result, we value what we have far less, because in a very real sense it cost us nothing.

My wife has recently trained as a debt advisor, volunteering in a community network debt advice service that is managing around £2million of debt. There are many reasons why people get into debt, but one of the issues clients need to address in order to get out of debt is working with their teenagers to affect a shift in their expectations. Parents have drawn on credit to bankroll an unsustainable lifestyle for their children, as well as themselves. The current economic climate will increasingly be an unwelcome wake-up call; but for the time being there is still a great deal of denial, and resentment that ‘the banks and the politicians got us into this mess, and we are the ones who are paying the price...’

We have not equipped our young adults with the perseverance they will require more now than at any point in their lives: have not allowed them to face the necessary trials: have over-sheltered them, kept them children. The irony is that their grandparents learnt a great deal about surviving – and more than mere survival – in the face of economic adversity. I hear this come out again and again when I do funeral visits. But their grandchildren have grown up believing that they are an entitled generation – and often exacerbated by grandparents who like to spoil and indulge them, to assuage the guilt that they feel for not having been in a position to indulge their own children to the extent that their children have been able to do so to their grandchildren.

The purpose of perseverance is to produce maturity of character: and maturity of character can never be achieved without perseverance.

We desperately need to rediscover perseverance: and perseverance is born out of times of suffering.

I have reflected recently on the nature of suffering: that it does not (necessarily) equate to pain, but to that which is done to us, where our choice is not what we will do but whether we will submit to the will of another – hence, for my children to ‘suffer’ music lessons produces perseverance.

As church, we have at times (often?) been guilty of segregating Generation Y from the older members of our congregations – those who might have something to teach us of perseverance – out of fear that the challenge will be too great (on both sides). We’ve also been guilty of encouraging young adults to pursue vision without instilling in them the discipline to see it through: allowing them positions of leadership responsibility, without holding them accountable, without attending to character. Again, there’s that balance to be found: people need to be stakeholders: but, they need to be stakeholders in their own journey to maturity, not in remaining dependent infants into adulthood.

What our young adults need most is not programmes, but stories: stories of perseverance, and how it has resulted in character, and how character has resulted in hope that does not disappoint. Stories of marriages that have lasted; of children that are doing well at school; of trials and the overcoming of trials in the workplace; of what lies beyond the horizon, if you will pack your vessel for the voyage...

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