Tragic Death Reminds Perseverance

“We grow when our life sucks.”

Believe it or not, that was the headliner on a recent post in Psychology Today. Sure, it’s not exactly clinical terminology, but profoundly accurate nevertheless. When we are satisfied we don’t move. But when life sucks, we do.

Yet pain, in itself, does not necessarily evoke positive motion. Sometimes personal crisis paralyzes people. Others wallow in the pity of hard times. Still many more deny misfortune as unhappiness simmers. Then there are those who allow difficulty to change them, but not for the better.  Pain moves them all right, but in the wrong direction. Each tough challenge chips away at their tired spirit.

I once attended a very sad funeral service.  A young man hung himself in his bedroom closet.  He was a brilliant guy—very talented, very handsome and very dynamic. He hailed from a loving and stable family. He had all the parts. But then life sucked. He was a victim of sexual molestation.  He was a drug addict and alcoholic. Several years ago, I tried to help him as he desperately sought to fight these inner demons. His earnest attempts at recovery and healing were always short-lived. And then he checked out. He was 26.

Why? What does it mean? 

Why did my young friend commit suicide?  Why did his pain move him precisely in the wrong direction?  Why did he perish while other people remain steadfast and persistent no matter what? Why is it that some people cave to the pressure, while others—even with failures, betrayals and set backs—still keep going until they overcome, standing ever stronger at pain’s finish line?  Why?

Perseverance—overcoming obstacles and being better for it when the battle subsides and the dust clears.  I went to my dictionary application, offering two definitions.  The first of these I knew as common:  NOUN. 1 steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.  

The second definition was less familiar and struck me profound: NOUN. 2 THEOLOGY continuance in a state of grace leading finally to a state of glory.

Continuance in a state of grace leading finally to a state of glory.

I kept thinking of my young friend.  A state of grace,” I mused to myself. When we are in pain, we certainly don’t think of it as “a state of grace.” But then later, as glory sets in, we do. We see only then that the pain was a gift– it was the conduit that invited us to a new place of strength and triumph.

I just wish I knew that second definition of “Perseverance” earlier.  I would have told him.

The pain is grace.  And maybe my friend just didn’t stick and stay long enough for the miracle. He didn’t see it that way.  So it was just pain. Grace never dawned.  Thus glory seemed ludicrous. Impossible. Maybe. Of course no one will ever know now.

I just wish I knew that second definition of “Perseverance” earlier.  I would have told him.

Talk of Resilience

Perseverance, aka Resilience is a major theme featured in many of my presentations.  Here’s the gist of what I say on the matter in my public speaking mentions:

  • Resilience is far more than just about surviving or muddling through. Most people can endure simply because they must. But Enduring pain is not the end game.
  • By definition, perseverance also means to overcome–meaning you hit the goal even though it was hard going. You finally find your way out of the dark woods.
  • But simply prevailing despite the pain is not the end game either.  Perseverance is bigger than that–it is foremost about coming out stronger because of battle.  It’s about the glory.
  • Resilience, then,  is positive growth as a result of facing down adversity.
  • Social scientists tend to agree that resilience is more of a practice than a personality trait. That’s good because it means that people can consciously choose to improve their ability to persevere.

Perseverance Beliefs

In my own experience, especially since suffering profound hearing loss, I found the following behaviors and beliefs indicative of people who persevere.  In other words, these are differentiators as to why some people are more resilient than others:

  1. A realistic, almost cynically wise grasp on the negative situation now confronting them. In this regard, optimism– which is often espoused as a desirable trait– is not useful to the extent it draws attention away from the hard reality.
  2. Tapping a strong support system, including being enthusiastic about the prospect of asking for help. This includes telling people exactly what is going on with you, explaining the difficulty of the challenge and indicating precisely how he or she can assist.
  3. Admitting you are powerless over those things (including the offending misery) that now befalls you into hardship. This is critical to acceptance of your current stake. And it sets you up to take action where you can have impact, not where you can’t.
  4. Embracing mourning and anger because things suck.  This means first staring down all the ugly facts in horrific detail.  Here again, the counsel of many is to instead “look at the bright side.” But this is a form of denial, not resilience.  If you feel lousy because of a great loss, that’s the right feeling. It’s healthy. It shows you have a sane grip. List the cold hard facts; then grieve with passion.
  5. Finding purpose and meaning in hardship that is bigger than yourself.  Usually this involves turning your thoughts to others and taking action to help them with their suffers, often by sharing your own. For me that meant using my sudden hearing loss to inspire people similarly situated; and to explain my pain and my triumph over it.
  6. Take specific positive actions that are practical and doable under your current plight

Where Grace Comes In

I am not a theologian by any means. My belief in a Higher Power is very personal and I don’t pontificate about it on the lecture circuit.  Nor do I publicly preach or affiliate myself with a religious sect when blogging or speaking.

That’s a choice I made. But I believe without apology in God’s mighty Gifts.  And I cannot and do not pretend to persevere without relying on a Power Greater than Myself.

For me, that’s how I know for certain that life has meaning and purpose. And when the human spirit prevails over stark pain and forbidding hardship– that’s the stuff of epic attraction to me. That’s where Grace comes in– through the pain. Who would have thought?!

I believe today that a “state of grace” is absolutely required to persevere. There is a plan, you see, that is far bigger than I.  I don’t pretend to know for sure what the Big Plan is.  But I choose to believe that it is something far better than I ever imagined before extreme pain reared its ugly head.

And how cool it is to believe that “a state of glory” awaits beyond my wildest dreams.

It makes all the difference. Amen.

PS: Please pray for my young friend’s family if you believe in that sort of thing. Thank you.


6 replies
  1. samuel sandler says:

    Brian i wont even pretend to understand the pain they are going thru. You know me and you know the difficulties i have faced and you and I both share the loss of our hearing. Reading this story makes some of my problems seem so minor compaired to what this family has faced and enjured.

    You write so eloquently about Perserverence and lay it out so clearly. I can only hope that those that read this story know that God loves them.

    It is hard to read stories like this at times but a needed reminder that indeed we need to perserve thru the pain knowing that Grace is just on the other side.

    As always my friend you have managed to hit close to home, challenge us, and encourage us all at the same time



  2. Ken Klingman says:

    Brian, I enjoyed your blog and totally agree with your approach to finding grace by helping others that share our difficulties. For years i was plagued with bouts of depression, self pity and low self esteem and no drug ever helped me with those afflictions. I was shown that when i helped others I am picked up and set on my feet. There is no doubt that a power greater than my self is working in my life and for that I am truly grateful. I also had a friend take his own life last week and it was hard to except I got through by talking to others and visiting the family with a card and sharing with them some of the good times and memories of their son.
    Thank you Brian and God bless.

  3. Stephanie says:

    I really enjoy your writing…particularly your blog on “Perseverance” and your description of your belief in a Higher Power (pretty much identical to my own, coincidentally). Thank you very much for sharing so much of yourself with the rest of us. Your writing is very inspirational!

  4. Karen says:

    I am so sorry for your loss and the loss that your friends family has experienced. It is an unimaginable pain that I can only try to grasp. Your words bring a new pespective to us. One that is unique and insightful. Grace is a rare quality that I believe is a state of mind. It is not something you can turn off and on. When you got it, you got it. You can tell by speaking to someone for a short time if they’ve got it. Several people come to mind and my guess is that it wasnt easy getting there. I believe it comes from gratitude and you must persevere to be truly grateful. Thats what you have done. You have looked hard for the gratitude. It comes through each time you put words on the page. Thanks for another great post.


  5. David Mitchell says:

    Brian, thanks again for your service. This is truly inspiring, yet my heart goes out to your friends family. There is a lesson in this for us all.


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