Last month 64-year-old Diana Nyad finally achieved her lifelong goal of swimming the 110 miles from Cuba to Key West.
She had tried four times before, stretching back to when she was a young adult 35 years earlier. Now eligible for Social Security, Nyad crossed the strait in 53 hours, dodging sharks and stinging jellyfish, hallucinating along the way, and stroking through 23-knot squalls. Amazing.
When she staggered up on U.S. sand, she said she had three messages: “One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you’re never too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team.”
Let’s take these each in turn and see if a religion column has anything to offer in response.
First, never give up. So many things can be accomplished with fortitude and perseverance that cannot be achieved otherwise.
Winston Churchill went to the Harrow School in October 1941, during the dark days of World War II and famously said to the students: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in …” If you excerpted only those words, they would sound much like our marathon swimmer’s exhortation. But Churchill added to that final “never give in” these words: “except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
Many think religion is about absolute certainties that cannot be compromised without imperiling the soul. That reasoning leads sometimes to terrifying violence and oft times to graceless treatment of others. G. K. Chesterton was right that “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” His point was that Christianity (like other religions) is a challenging way of life. Progress demands discipline and courage.
Still, Jesus himself said that we must deny ourselves, give up our possessions, take up our cross and follow him. Apparently, giving up and giving in are not always bad. Diana Nyad had lots of giving up to do in order to train for her feat. Wisdom knows both sides of the truth: Easy religion lacks hardiness, and over-hardy religion lacks sense.
Next, are you ever too old to chase your dreams? Well, yes. I am 57 now, but I still think my quarterback arm is strong enough to play in the NFL. With a lot of conditioning and somebody just giving me a chance, I know I can do it.
I am wrong. Even Diana Nyad knows that. Getting your dreams right before you pursue them is the key to chasing them successfully.
Sound faith aids focus. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well,” Jesus said.
Finally, it takes a team. Life is not a solitary sport, and neither is religion. We do it together or it won’t be done well or right. And yet, no one can do your part for you. “Choose this day whom you will serve,” Joshua challenged the children of Israel before entering the Promised Land; “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
So yes. persevere, chase your dreams and do it with others. Just make sure your dreams are holy and worthy and the sacrifices wholly worthwhile.