Sunday, November 13, 2016
The Stamp of Persistence
The most interesting thing about a postage stamp is the persistence with which it sticks to the job -- Napoleon Hill, motivational writer.
It's been quite a week. Personally, the high of the Cubs winning the World Series was followed by the results of the election just the other day. It has been a roller coaster and as such, hasn't always been easy to get through. Still, putting one foot in front of the other is about the only thing to do, it seems.
I ran across this quote from Napoleon Hill and, if you'll excuse the pun, it has sort of stuck with me. Granted, a postage stamp is becoming more uncommon item almost every day. People send emails, tweets, make phone calls, and it seems like the only people who use postage now are those who have bulk rates to send me junk. I do have a few friends, however, who have not forgotten that there is a post office, and that sending a letter or card does require a postage stamp that comes in various sizes, colors, themes, and denominations.
Stamps can be beautiful, tiny works of mass-produced art and only occasionally appreciated and treasured. But the thing about the stamp is once you stick it on, it usually stays stuck. Put the wrong stamp on the wrong envelope, and the stamp does what it's supposed to do; it sticks to the job until it gets the letter or whatever to its appointed recipient.
I was thinking about the story from Luke (18:1–18) where Jesus uses the parable about a very stubborn, persistent, irritating woman whose perseverance was phenomenal. She had a complaint against an opponent, but the judge didn't want to hear it. So she kept coming before him, demanding justice for something that she felt strongly about. Like the stamp, she stuck to it until she actually reached the point where the judge had the choice of either having her return again and again, or hearing her complaint and judging in her favor. Like water dripping on a rock, eventually the rock will give way. The woman received her justice.
Persistence is something just about every parent knows intimately. From "Me want a cookie!" to a very emphatic "No!", to "Mommy, buy me this!", to "But everybody else is doing it!", there seems to be a prerecorded message that kids learn quickly to use repeatedly to obtain whatever it is they want. Long before they ever know what the word persistence means, they are masters at its use.
Persistence often flies in the face of convention. Many times it is described as a "Go get'em" attitude that often is considered to be meritorious in some people but not in others. It seems to depend on what it is the persistence is being used to do. There is an old saying about burrs under the saddle blanket, meaning someone or something being persistent even to the point of pain, but the humble stamp just hangs on and keeps trying to move forward come hell or high water, as Mama used to say. Sometimes it's a very difficult thing to do. Just ask the Cubs fans who waited 108years for a world championship.
Jesus encouraged us to be persistent in prayers and to not give up even if they aren't answered immediately or the way we wanted to go. Here's a time to be a postage stamp. Our prayer is like a letter to God, or a Hallmark card if you prefer, and our persistence is the stamp that gets it there. Granted it's a cute metaphor, but I think it also begs us to look at it in a little different way. Not as a tax or a price to be paid to get something from A to B, but also as a symbol of persistence and trust.
The stamp will hang on persistently, and we trust that whatever it's affixed to will get where it's supposed to go in a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes that doesn't happen: mail trucks get wrecked, or any one of a number of things that would prevent that stamp on that letter from being delivered. Same thing with our prayer lives. Sometimes we hit a rough patch, and even though we think we have stuck that stamp on firmly and have launched it successfully towards God, we probably need to follow up with a second letter or second prayer, or third, or maybe 35th attempt. Is not to say God's always going to say yes, but by focusing on being persistent in prayer, were focusing our trust and also our hope and faith in God.
The widow and the judge were a lot like political candidates in this election. Everybody wanted our vote and they often hammered away at the same complaints, promises, claims, or even epithets towards the other candidate in order to get our attention and keep it focused on the message they wanted us to get. Sometimes at church, it feels like we hear the same messages over and over again, messages about loving our neighbor, helping those in need, standing for justice and righteousness, being honest, and living a life that is directed towards others and not just for our own satisfaction. They're persistent messages, letters stamped and sent to us for our attention.
Bless that persistent woman. This week I have seen a lot of persistence, a lot of it negative, but also a lot of it positive, and that's the good part. There have been acts of outright hatred, violence, and pain, but they're also been acts of healing, calming, and persistence in continuing to try to make this world better, not just for one widow but for every single person.
This week I need to think about where I can be a postage stamp, persistently stuck to a task that needs to be done to bring maybe some joy or happiness or light into someone
else's life when they need it most. I won't ask to be a pretty stamp, just a very tenacious one.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, November 12, 2016.