As a kid, I never really liked tug-of-war. From the sidelines, it always looked more fun than it was. The thrill of winning, of being stronger, would beckon me to come and take my place on the line. The moment I picked up the rope, though, I would realize I had once again made a mistake. I could never fully grasp its expanse, and the strands, twisting and turning into each other, brought discomfort well before the first tug from the opposing side. Being averse to pain, try as I might to hold fast, the force of the rope tearing against my skin would convince me to let go.
How many times have I defined tenacity as being the last one standing in a violent tug-of-war with life? Too many. And many have been the days when my boldness was little more than self-interest dressed up as virtue. I wanted to win but without the struggle.
I’m not alone.
Lithe and strong, her tenacity belies the brutal hardships life put in her way. When she sat in my classroom for the first time three years ago, I wasn’t sure we were going to make it through the semester. She was angry at life; I was exhausted by it. We had just returned to full weeks of in-person learning, and she and I, like so many other students and teachers, struggled to find our way back to a sense of normalcy in the classroom. She wanted to do well, but she felt like the odds were stacked against her, and I was the teacher asking her to stretch academically. I knew she wouldn’t break, but she wasn’t convinced. We were iron sharpening iron, mirroring each other in high self-expectations, a desire to do well, and a need to be right. Always.
I wanted to throw in the towel, sit down, let someone else carry the charge. I was tired. But like her, I refused to give up.
Be anxious for nothing . . . It’s not usually the refrain that comes to mind when we think of being determined. But still, the whisper comes out of the confusion, out of the struggle, the fierceness of the battle. Real moxie, the courage Jesus gives us, isn’t motivated by fear, refuses to be driven by anxiety, and takes its inspiration from the Cross (Matthew 26:53-43; John 10:18). Godly tenacity calls us to be courageous in what really matters: loving others well.
Though her name is mentioned in only a few places in Scripture, Abigail’s tenacious courage came at an instrumental point in the life of King David. Married to Nabal, Abigail had heard the stories told by their workers: David had protected them and their flocks, assuring Nabal would keep his profit. When David had rightfully asked for an exchange of provision, Nabal responded by foolishly refusing David’s request. Rage burned in David, a vagabond warrior soon to be king.
As fierce as his anger, however, was the tenacity of Abigail’s appeal on behalf of her people. Living in a time when the word of a man turned the tide of time, she knew what it was to step into the battle and confront the circumstances life had brought to her doorstep. Love called her to hold fast, regardless of the cost. Her moxie caught David’s attention, but it was her wisdom that turned his heart. Her courage not only saved her people; it also called David out of the moment and into the future God had declared over his life (1 Samuel 25:23-31).
Moxie meant risking her own life for the well-being of others.
My students are always looking for someone to admire. I read it in their writing; I hear it in the words they speak; I see it in their eyes. For many of them, life has been less than kind. They need to see the determination of those who have gone before them, but some of them have yet to see that tenacity isn’t about making it to the top. It’s the willingness to step into the gap, to pay a price so that someone other than ourselves can benefit. It’s being enraptured with a picture larger than our own success, our own concerns.
Today, as I watched my student practice her final senior capstone speech, I reflected on the goodness of God. I’m a different person today than I was three years ago, and so is she. At least one of us has set down the need to always be right, and both of us have learned and earned the other’s respect. Whether or not she sees me as a model of moxie I will never know, but in the end it doesn’t matter. I’ve learned that courage means confronting my own fears, my own insecurities, in order to love others well.
Love refuses to give up. Love never fails. Love holds fast (Hebrews 12:2).
—Written by Regina Franklin. Used by permission from the author.