• Pete Johnson
Grace Christian School Women's basketball team photo

When you think about the word persevere, what comes to mind? Our English verb persevere comes from the Latin root persevereus, meaning “to continue steadfastly, to persist. The verb persist is derived from two other Latin words, per– meaning very, and severus– for strict. So, the connotation of the word persevere is to persist in a methodical way despite obstacles or distractions.

This past week I had the grand opportunity to witness perseverance live and up close. Our Christian School’s Varsity Girls basketball team played in a tough tournament this past weekend. On Thursday of last week, they played two games against the best 4A girls’ teams in the State, with only an hour’s rest in between. They played hard but lost both games by a large number of points. Very tired, and somewhat discouraged by the outcome of those games, they came back the next day to play against one of the better 3A Schools in the State. Playing against a team that was fresher, faster, and could shoot better, especially on this particular day, the girls struggled. The Grace girls were down by 14 at the half. Missed layups and open shots were symptoms of not only fatigue from the previous day’s two tough games, but also the spiraling effect of the overwhelming feeling that nothing was going right, but everything going wrong. It felt as though there was no energy in the gym at all for the Grizzlies. Even the girls on the bench and the fans in the stands seemed to have thrown in the towel.
The third quarter started eerily similar to the end of the first half, with missed shots and layups, and a feeling of despair. However, a few minutes into the 3rd quarter things began to change. The energy level and the sense of determination, a desire to persist became apparent, perseverance in action. Little by little the Grizzlies began cutting into the lead. This shift in momentum didn’t just happen, it was the girl’s hard defensive play, coupled with encouraging energy coming from off the bench and from the fans that helped spur on the five girls on the floor.

Starting the fourth quarter the Grizzlies found themselves closing the gap. Midway into the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies were even closer. Yet it seemed that whenever the Grizzlies would get to within 4, something would go wrong, a mistake made, and the lead would go back up to 7.  Still, the bench and the fans continued with thunderous encouraging support. Finally, in the waning minutes of the game, the Grizzlies got to within 3, then within 1 point! Just seconds remained in the game. The score was now Grace 50, Barrow 51. Grace Christian with the ball, no time-outs, 10 seconds left in the game. A drive to the basket, a missed layup…
The Grace Christian Varsity Girls had determined in the locker room at halftime, that even though they were down by 14 against an opponent as tough as the Barrow Whalers, they would forget about the score, they would forget about their mistakes and poor shooting and just play, leaving it all on the floor. No prayers were offered up in that halftime about letting them win, just a prayer that no matter the outcome they would not give up, but they would have the strength and courage to play hard to the end…

The missed layup was rebounded by the same Grace player who took the shot and put it back up. She missed the putback but was fouled in the attempt. With 1.7 seconds left in the game and down 50-51, the Grace Christian player now at the free-throw line had shot poorly from the free-throw line all game, a good decision by Barrow to foul her. The gym now was an explosion of sound. The Barrow fans, screaming and yelling, stomping their feet on the bleachers producing a barrier of sound and vibration, equivalent in basketball to the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system.  The Grace fans, on their feet, along with teammates on the bench were loudly supporting the young lady at the free-throw line. The first free throw up and in, nothing but net, tie game 51-51, overtime is now a possibility! Barrow calls a time out to freeze the shooter and to set up a final shot attempt in case the second free throw is made. During the time out the Grace players are instructed on what to do regardless of whether the last free throw is made or missed. The gym is even louder now than it was on the first free-throw since much more is now on the line, the win. The second free throw is good, Grace up 52-51, Barrow attempts a long shot to no avail, Grace wins!

Watching that game and being so close to what was going on reminded me of Proverbs 24:10

If you faint in the day of adversity,
    your strength is small.

As Christians, we will all face some type of adversity, a struggle that seems to be against all odds, even life and death situations. God’s Word doesn’t promise us that we will win these battles, but he does promise that he will be with us through them, and we have the security of knowing that in the end we have eternal life.

So then how should we live our lives here on earth through the uncertainty, the discouragement, the mistakes, and fear? We need to persevere! Not trusting in our own capabilities but trusting in the power of God that works within us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1–2