Buzzwords come and go, and presently the term grit is fairly popular within the behavioral sciences and beyond. The term stirs up inspiring pictures: entrepreneurs taking a chance, soldiers pressing forward despite seemingly impossible odds, parents determined to support and love a resistant adolescent, politicians or activists standing up for something that is worthwhile.
Writers on the subject rightfully emphasize traits such as optimism, confidence, creativity, resilience, and hardiness; all of these may describe what grit is composed of, but I want to take a look at what is behind these descriptors – the source of grit. Think of it like a spring bubbling with water: if grit is the virtue equivalent of a spring’s clean, cold water, it has to come from somewhere. Like water slowly trickling through porous limestone, becoming cleaner and purer at each step, so is the confidence and hardiness we call grit filtered from a particular source.
And now, as is characteristic of all my writings, the faith claim! No surprises here!
The ultimate well/source is God, the creative One who crafted all that we will ever study or see or experience.
And because God has been made known, we have hope. And the hope of God naturally overflows, giving us grit. When institutions, relationships, concepts, religious systems, or commitments seem to fail, the hope of God remains steadfast.
The hope of God is the source of grit.
To be sure, there is plenty of pushback that can be voiced against this. The Christian faith can unfortunately be viewed as an escapist paradigm and one could cling blindly to the hope that God will do something for them while ignoring how God has already equipped them to move forward. But this would miss the mark on several accounts.
First, James the brother of Jesus teaches us explicitly that faith leads nowhere except to good works. 2:17 reads, …faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. It is strong language indeed to render faith dead when unaccompanied with works!
Second, the famed apostle Paul frames the work of Jesus as a rescue operation, deliverance from one kingdom to another: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves… [Colossians 1:13].
Now if Paul had simply heard about the work of Jesus and the rescue operation He began then gone on to live without any sense of concern about doing something about it, it might strike us as a hollow message. But at the end of Colossians 1 [and elsewhere] we realize how hard he works to translate the teachings of Jesus with genuine life-change. This whole rescued-from-one-kingdom-and-brought-into-another idea is quite personal for Paul:
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom,so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me [Colossians 1:28-29].
Turns out Paul’s theologizing led to concrete actions in his life. I’d say Paul had grit:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked [2 Corinthians 11:24-27].
We also discover in Revelation, the very end of the Bible, that God is at work making all things new. Christians have every reason to be interested in eternity, but there is no need to wait until some distant time. Knowing God is ultimately bringing all things to completion motivates us to act in the present:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
God gives us so much hope! And when we have God-given hope, we have a spiritual well from which to draw the optimism, confidence, and resilience known as grit. Without something lasting to in which to hope, our grit is limited to just us. This is not only extremely small, but it is also vulnerable to nihilism.
With God involved as the source, there is much more than human virtue on the line; there is eternality. For God works the actions of the moment into eternity future. CS Lewis pictures it like this:
…with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow — creatures, and with itself [Mere Christianity, 1952, p. 52].
Actively or passively, Christian or irreligious alike, we either cooperate with God or we rebel knowingly or unknowingly against God. So, I conclude lightheartedly, why not actively cooperate with God as we seek the kind of God-given characteristics we trendily describe as grit? It is not so hard. It is often more difficult, I think, to resist the love of God than to simply receive it as one received a generous gift from a friend, lover, or parent.
As with many trends that come and go, this one will surely pass and another like term will replace grit. But something enduring supports any such virtue: the hope of God. And hope allows us to press on through hardships of every kind, for as Paul mentions not casually, it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose [Philippians 2:13].
Now a brief sketch of this concept working out in my own life.
A disclaimer: I do not, in any sense, consider myself at all exceptional. I add my own perspective only because it is, well, my own.
For me, parenting has been rather challenging, not only because it is in and of itself difficult, but also because I am far from the tangible support of either set of parents and siblings. Additionally, I am a fairly involved parent, spending a considerable amount of time with my two toddlers every week on top of typical work demands, varied as they are.
Some days Silas and Maelin are, for the most part, curious and cooperative. Sometimes I have plenty of energy and sleep from the previous night, and the wherewithal to engage them with questions and conversation. Other days Maelin is yelling at the top of his lungs, demanding snack after snack, while Silas is pulling at the shades, dumping all his toys, and acting precisely his age-three.
If I’m honest, there are moments when all the weight of the world seems to be on my shoulders and the universe appears to be closed to me. My job demands much of me, the kids are going wild, and I cannot hear Kaile from across the [small] kitchen over one boy’s tears.
This is precisely where grit is formed.
There are lots of seasons in my life that have demanded physical grit: high school soccer, a 500 mile bike ride through northern Spain, that 70 mile hike to Macchu Picchu in the mountains of Peru. But these simple moments attempting to be a steady, loving parent require grit in all its varieties: physical [have you ever dealt with a determined toddler?], emotional, relational, mental, and spiritual.
No, I’m not a solder fighting on the front lines. That would be a different kind of grit entirely. I’m not a CEO or politician making world-changing policies or laws; these would of course have their own challenges. I’m not a lot of things, but I am a husband, dad, and pastor, and I write from the station I occupy.
And as I reflect, is it God at work in me? Or is it me? If we take the Bible’s perspective, what is the point of asking? As Lewis frames it, do we ask which side of the scissors is doing the cutting? Or do we simply conclude that we cannot separate the action of God and our own God-given agency?
However it is that God is at work within, I have discovered that it is the hope of what God has done, is doing, and will someday finish, that provides enduring substance to grit.
I suppose I should raise one objection. How about that atheist or agnostic who insists it is merely my own construct of God that so motivates me? That it is a highly evolved self-preservation instinct? Well maybe this is the case. But the fact that we are asking the question leads me right back to the start: that we care to know is a small piece of evidence that our faith-and this is faith I am discussing, not absolute certainty-could have a true source.
And so I say in faith:
The hope of God is the source of grit.