A book published this year, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” by psychologist Angela Duckworth, debunks the myth of talent—that highly successful people are the geniuses, the gifted, or those with IQs, EQs and other forms of intelligence that are a cut above the rest.
Duckworth was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, a much coveted and distinguished peer-nominated “genius grant” in which nominees are screened by a secret committee of top authorities in the field.
She imagined herself telling her father: “Dad, you say I am not a genius. I won’t argue with that. You know plenty of people who are smarter than I am… But let me tell you something. I am going to grow up to love my work. I won’t just have a job. I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest. In the long run, Dad, grit may matter more than talent.”
Grit matters. It’s passion and perseverance working together. Duckworth’s basic theory is that talent and effort will lead to skill; skill and effort will then lead to achievement. Thus, the greatest achievements we admire are simply the tip of the iceberg. They are the product of years and years of constant effort to hone talent into skill, and then more effort to translate skill into achievement.
In a world that has a bias for talent and “the fast and the furious,” grit doesn’t make sense.
Passion and perseverance, the core elements of grit, are the essence of our Christian faith. These are renewed in us every Advent, which reminds and reconnects us with the grace of expectant longing in the hope, faith and love intrinsic in our Judeo-Christian tradition.
The first reading from Isaiah gives us the beautiful image of the Chosen People’s vision of God’s promise: “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain… All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain… that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.’
“He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again… Let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
This was the promise God’s people believed in through good times and bad. It was this waiting that defined their life and history; their journey and pilgrimage: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
Renewal and inspiration
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans—considered by some as Paul’s Gospel, the 5th Gospel—is more explicit and imminent in his exhortation:
“For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day… put on the Lord Jesus Christ…”
In the Gospel, Christ tops all these with his own exhortation and promise: “Therefore, stay awake! You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
This is the grit with which we are to live out our Christian faith. This is the grace we are especially reminded of and given the opportunity to renew, to connect to and bring to life this Advent.
Advent renews our passion and inspires our perseverance—the passion for Christ, the desire to let him come into our life: remembering his first coming as a child and hoping for his coming again in glory in our midst.
Journey of faith
Renewed in this passion, we then pray for the grace of perseverance. Two Sundays ago, we reflected on this grace: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
We reflected on Mahatma Gandhi’s perseverance.
The Chinese sage Lao-Tzu is often quoted, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Abraham’s “yes” started his and our journey of faith, which has spanned a thousand lifetimes.
Mary’s “yes” opened our world to the grace of eternity with the coming of the Emmanuel, God with us.
Passion and perseverance, talent and effort lead to skill; skill and effort lead to achievement. Advent is a time to help us remember this, that ours is a faith of passion and perseverance.
Ours is a faith that rewards perseverance in taking our talent—the blessings our gracious God gives us—and to work on it day in and day out, guided by our passion to know, to love and to follow Christ more and more each day.
This gives us the “skill” to live a Christian life, inspired by meaning and purpose or what we call vocation and mission.
Vocation and mission
This “skill”—a life of vocation and mission lived out in the day to day—is what leads us to achievement. The achievement we aim for is that which will make life better for others, give them something to hope for and believe in.
In the midst of many things happening around us, Advent could not have come at a better time. In the midst of the uncertainty and anxiety of current events, we must raise our heads above all this and anticipate—wait for the coming of Christ with grit.
In the words of author Jim Collins, we are to have faith “that you would prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. And at the same time, you must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
“For, at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” —CONTRIBUTED