Thursday, April 22, 2021

Needed: A Hefty New Supply of True Grit

Years ago, not long after a friend of mine had relocated to the South, he went to a local restaurant for breakfast. “Would you like some grits?” the server asked him. A bit puzzled, my friend responded, “I’ve never had grits, so I don’t know if I’d like them. Could I just have one grit?”


Suffice it to say, this wasn’t a fellow who had experienced a gritty lifestyle. At least in the Southern sense of the word. But there’s a vast difference between grits and grit. These days it seems grits are in much greater supply than grit.


One of the classic western films, at least for John Wayne fans, was the original “True Grit,” released in 1969, about a rough-and-tumble U.S. marshal named Rooster Cogburn and a determined orphan girl, Mattie Ross, who wants Cogburn’s help in apprehending her father’s killer. Over the course of the film, both Cogburn and Mattie display an amazing amount of “true grit” in overcoming many difficulties.


What is grit, anyway – and why do we need it? One dictionary says grit is “firmness of character, indomitable spirit; pluck.” Wikipedia defines it as “…an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state…the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie on the path to accomplishment.” 

When we think of individuals who have made the greatest contributions to our world, whether through invention and innovation, leadership, or other forms of exceptional achievement, the presence of grit has typically been prominent in their lives.


Recently I saw the film “Greater,” about Brandon Burlsworth, a former walk-on whose grit and determination resulted in his becoming a three-year starter and All-American for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Although he died in a car crash just days after being drafted by the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, Burlsworth’s life remains a source of inspiration to this day.


Grit has been a singular American trait throughout its history, but judging from what we see in some segments of our society, it has become conspicuously absent. College students fleeing to “safe zones” to avoid being confronted with ideas that don’t align with their own. People expecting handouts rather than expending the necessary effort to get what they want. Individuals consistently playing the “victim card,” refusing to accept responsibility for their own actions.


Who’s to blame for this? Speaker and leadership coach Brian Kight points to adults failing to teach and model gritty qualities for younger people. He says, “Want ‘grittier’ kids? Show them grit. Show it to them in all your actions. They’re watching you. Teachers expect grit from students, but then complain about changes from the school district. Coaches expect grit from players, but then complain about refs calls. Parents want grit from kids, but then complain about taxes, traffic, and their boss. If grit is so powerful, prove it.”


We can’t find the word “grit” in the Scriptures, but its qualities are expressed in many ways. The apostle Paul probably had grit in mind when he wrote, “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope” (Romans 5:2-3). Having experienced more than his share of adversity, Paul knew about this firsthand.


James 1:2-4 offers similar sentiments: “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.” 


There’s a tendency for us to choose paths of least resistance, the easy way that demands minimal effort and sacrifice. But that’s not the option for followers of Christ. Jesus said, Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). The so-called “Christian life” is one of grit, perseverance and sacrifice.


As Kight observed, if we expect our children and even younger people we influence to develop these traits, the onus is upon us to demonstrate them in action. This is why Paul the apostle boldly declared, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9). The disclaimer, “Do as I say, not as I do,” had no place in his lifestyle.


A tree develops its hardest wood during times of adversity that require grit. A moth emerges from a cocoon prepared to fly through grit. And achievements are most satisfying not when they’re handed to us, like participation trophies in youth sports, but when they have been attained via the proverbial blood, sweat and tears. The sooner we learn that – and in turn, teach it to others – the better.

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