Mr. Hinton, our next door neighbor, is now ninety. Over the years, he has told us stories of the Great Depression and World War II. Since the end of World War II, Americans as a whole have known unprecedented peace and prosperity. While I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War and remember hanging out in the bomb shelter in my friend’s basement, for the most part, I am a child of peace and prosperity.
And what a blessing that is!
Make no mistake about it: I have no desire to go to war to toughen up my kids or to face widespread economic collapse so we can all better appreciate the value of a dollar. But with these blessings can come a softness and, if I’m perfectly honest, a sense of entitlement. My generation, perhaps more than any other, needs to ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of fortitude, the supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit that gives us strength over time, courage under duress, stick-to-it-ness in the face of unpleasant or even dangerous tasks.The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this of fortitude:
The virtue of fortitude has two components – endurance and enterprise.
Endurance helps us to keep going when we are fatigued, suffering, weak, exhausted, or facing discouragement. Enterprise helps us to undertake great deeds while withstanding hardship. Enterprise requires initiative to see a need and take on the responsibility to carry out a plan for the good of others.
Our teenage son is reading Do Hard Things. "Combating the idea of adolescence as a vacation from responsibility," says the Do Hard Things website, "the authors weave together biblical insights, history, and modern examples to redefine the teen years as the launching pad of life and map a clear trajectory for long-term fulfillment and eternal impact."
Fortitude helps us do hard things.
Several months back I conferred with a friend about why it's all sometimes so hard -- harder than it should be, it seems to me. I know that part of my struggle is that I've bought into the myth that life should be easy. At a certain basic level, I don't want to die to myself, to grow in fortitude, to do hard things.
The rub is that when I overcome my weak will, when I fully embrace my life, when I stop cutting corners, when I put off petty feelings of resentment, in short, when I truly love -- the result is joy.
We, like the Israelites before us, tend to murmur. God delivers us from slavery, parts the Red Sea, provides manna in the desert. We shrug our shoulders and ask, “What have you done for me lately?”
When I’m confronted with bad news, I tend to react as though the sky were falling. Despair would probably be too strong of a word, but I fall apart more easily than I should. Having been a charismatic Christian for thirty years, you’d think my first response would be to pray. No, step one is panic. Step two is buy a book. I log on to Amazon and find some handy how-to manual about the problem at hand. (Look at my Amazon history and you’ll find that my last three purchases were Mommy, Teach Me to Read, Parenting Your Teen with Love and Logic, and The Fulfillment of All Desire. You can probably guess the issues we’ve been facing.) Steps 3-5 vary and include, but are not limited to: crying, pouring a glass of wine, and consuming large quantities of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Sometimes simultaneously.
I forget, if only temporarily, all that God has done for me.
Last week I arrived at our support group potluck, and someone mentioned that we had a visitor who had been part of University Christian Outreach in Ann Arbor while I was a student at the University of Michigan. Mike Shaughnessy recognized me right away, although I haven’t seen him in 27 years.
The first time I met Mike was a true turning point in my life. I was twenty-one and miserable. One night I decided to attend a prayer meeting.
I’ll show up, I told myself, and then leave right afterwards.
Before I could beat a hasty retreat, Mike came over to me and asked, “Could I pray with you?” Mike and another leader, a woman named Rosemary, spent several hours praying with me that night. Their prayers changed the course of my life.
Seeing Mike 800 miles away, twenty seven years later really rocked me. Since then I have thought long and hard about God’s provision in my life. At twenty-one I was miserable, and my misery was purely of my own making. Yet God intervened.
A friend of mine recently shared an image God revealed to him in prayer. Chuck recalled different glimmers of God he had seen in beauty, in humor, in tenderness, in sacrifice, in joy. And then God led him to observe a granite stone in the backyard. It is awesome, unyielding, whole, solid, unchanging. These, too, are attributes of God.
The morning after I saw Mike, I prayed about the nature of God and about the specific ways God has carried me throughout my life. I was overwhelmed with God’s great and personal love for me. When I was at my weakest, God touched me profoundly. When I am next confronted by faults and failures that are an inevitable part of life on planet Earth, I hope I will have the fortitude to dwell on the nature of this all-knowing and all-loving God I serve.
As we were finishing a few afternoon chores the other day, Kolbe fed me one of his favorite Calvin and Hobbes lines. Calvin, imitating his father, yells, “Calvin go do something you hate. Being miserable builds character!”
Thankfully, God doesn’t call us to be miserable. But He does call us to be strong. When we find ourselves weak, we can ask Him to send us the gift of fortitude.