On our recent vacation, my husband wanted to hike to the tippy-top of Black Elk Peak to view the Black Hills of South Dakota from a magnificent fire tower made entirely of stone, perched on a summit high above everything else for hundreds of miles.
It sounded so innocuous, a quick jaunt consisting of breathtaking views and then we’d wrap the day with a soak in the hot springs.
We weren’t 30 minutes into the 7-mile hike when I began to reevaluate my quick assent to his suggestion. While we had a clear trail upon which to trod, I’d underestimated the rigorous nature of the hike and began to wonder whether the kiddos (and I!) would have the stamina to reach the top. We climbed up and up along switchback trails, witnessing impressive vistas of far distant peaks before a winding descent into a wooded valley only to be confronted with climbing once again to our destination. As we traveled, we began to hear reports that the end of the trail was particularly steep but that the view was “worth it.”
I began employing various “mentally tough” tactics about midpoint on our way to the summit, promising our daughter, who was starting to wilt, a break upon reaching a fork in the trail that was surely just around the next bend. She and I plodded along slightly behind the rest of our group, looking for that fork around each curve, both looking forward to that promised break and a little snack I had tucked into our backpacks.
As we reached the fork, I reached for my pack, grateful for the opportunity to rest before tackling the steepest part of our journey and arguably the hardest part of the hike. My daughter, upon reading the sign and realizing that the summit was only 1/4 mile away, turned to me and said: “We made it this far without stopping, let’s keep going! I want to reach the top without resting!”
Ummmm…what? I watched as my intrepid daughter suddenly found her second wind and disappeared up the rocky, steep trail, followed quickly by my husband and son.
Grit. That elusive mental ability to push through hard things, knowing that the result will be worth it, even if the present moment is filled with discomfort. I am desperate to teach grit to my children, and I often can be heard telling them that the most worthwhile things in life often involve discomfort, hard work, and perseverance.
It isn’t often that I can show them grit and directly connect the satisfaction of accomplishment to their hard work. It feels as though I’m often asking them to trust me in this advice about hard work because joy and satisfaction is some far off, distant, currently intangible reward for whatever it is I am asking them to push through today.
As I stood staring wistfully at that sign in the fork of the trail as my family suddenly found the energy to practically sprint up the steep trail, I realized that today’s hike was a perfect lesson in grit—a perfectly contained example of pressing through something hard to a beautiful reward—and so began plodding the last 1/4 mile up the trail to the summit of Black Elk Peak without taking that long promised break.
In the end, we all made it to the summit without a break and enjoyed a well-deserved lunch pulled out of backpacks as we sat on the rocky summit of the highest point east of the Rockies and west of the Great Pyrenees mountains.
And as we wound our way back to our car, again pressing through without break, I pondered the importance of others when gritting our proverbial teeth and pressing through hard things. I pushed my daughter, and then she pushed me, each of us having the energy and motivation at different points during the hike to keep the other one moving forward.
She and I found grit at different times and then simply pulled the other one along when we didn’t think we could go another step.
Maybe grit isn’t always going it alone— such an American concept— but the push and pull of allowing another to carry you when you feel too tired to take another step. What if grit was found in relationship, in daring to be vulnerable and allowing someone to come alongside and help you press through in that moment of wanting desperately to quit whatever hard thing you’ve been tasked with completing? What if grit is found in community, in a tribe, in a posse, in those around you who believe in you and who push you to do better than you thought you could do?
Grit as both an internal strength of character and a powerful external coming together of encouragers is replete in scripture: We are told of individual strength of character as well as the power of a community of believers who stood alongside the likes of Moses, Daniel, David, Paul, Peter and so many others.
Grit is both individual and communal, requiring strong character but also strong community. We were never intended to go it completely alone, all the time, relying only upon ourselves. We need people who are willing to come alongside and push/shove us when we would prefer to quit, knowing that not only can we accomplish that goal, but that we will be better, stronger women for pushing through.
In the end, my strength is most often found in my community of family and girlfriends who are unafraid to dare me, to push me, to refuse to let me quit, even during my moments of whiny argument about why it is too hard, too much, too uncomfortable.
My gritty relationships are the most treasured and most precious because they see my potential and refuse to let me be anything less.
That is the lesson I want my daughter and my son to learn: that grit is both an internal digging deep to push through as well as found in community, in surrounding ourselves with people who see the best in us and who will firmly push us forward when we suddenly balk, who will lend us strength when we want to quit, who want the best for us and will walk alongside us during the rough patches in life.
What gritty thing do you feel like quitting this week? Who can you call upon to keep you plodding forward? If you don’t currently have a gritty community, Jesus always has enough grit to pull you through, if you’ll turn to him in prayer.