No one knows who will claim gold medals at the fast-approaching Olympic Games in China. The pundits will prognosticate. The sportswriters will publish their predictions. But no one will be certain of the winners until after the actual races, contests and competitions are staged.
But if history is to be trusted, one thing about the Games seems sure — there will be at least one Olympic athlete who will become a household name in the coming weeks because he or she demonstrated perseverance. The story lines are yet to be determined. Perhaps Olympic watchers will come to admire a fleet sprinter who recovered from serious injury to achieve victory. Or maybe they will cheer a pixie-sized gymnast who mined gold despite, say, an impoverished childhood or broken home. But be certain, viewers will be inspired by the example of a determined athlete who hung in when others let go.
The essential stuff of life — those matters of family, faith and eternal learning — also demands perseverance. The Olympic athlete's long and often lonely path to the medal stand is typically pitted with obstacles and distractions. And so it is with us as we persevere along gospel-guided, day-in-day-out routes that lead to our Heavenly Father.
Perseverance is about continuing forward in spite of counter influences, opposition or discouragement. It's an active characteristic. Passive perseverance is an oxymoron.
In his October 1987 general conference address, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve said perseverance is vital to success in any endeavor — whether spiritual or temporal, large or small, public or personal.
"Think seriously of how important perseverance, or lack of it, has been in your own endeavors, such as Church callings, schooling, or employment," Elder Wirthlin said. "I believe that essentially all significant achievement results largely from perseverance."
Church members can draw strength from many — both ancient and modern — whose successes came only after enlisting perseverance. In this season when pioneers are honored, try considering the Mormon Pioneers without also considering perseverance. It's impossible. Despite tragic hardships and much heartache, the pioneers kept walking, kept pushing, kept pulling and kept persevering until they reached the Great Salt Lake Valley and set about their work of establishing Zion.
"Something about which I am most proud is how our forefathers, through their faith in God and their industry and perseverance, turned places that nobody wanted into beautiful cities," said Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve during general conference in April 2001.
Perhaps the Mormon Pioneers' internal fire of perseverance was fueled by the many Book of Mormon accounts of faithful people who chose to endure.
"The life of Moroni is especially instructive in teaching perseverance," Elder Wirthlin said. "The obstacles he faced may seem beyond belief to us. He saw the entire Nephite nation destroyed by the sword in a terrible war because of the wickedness of the people. His father and all of his kinsfolk and friends were slain. He was alone for about 20 years, perhaps hiding and fleeing from savage Lamanites who sought to take his life (Mormon 8:2-7). Yet he continued to keep the record as his father had commanded him.
"As a result of his perseverance and righteousness, he was ministered to by the Three Nephites....In these latter days, Moroni had the divine commission of instructing Joseph Smith in his calling as the Prophet of the Restoration and delivering the Book of Mormon record to him."
Elder Wirthlin reminds us that the Savior remains our quintessential example of perseverance amid pain, sorrow, isolation, scorn and hatred. Christ could fulfill His ultimate mission as the Redeemer only by enduring to the end.
"Jesus persevered through the final days of His mortal life as the mood of the people changed from shouts of 'Hosanna to the Son of David' (Matthew 21:9) to cries of 'Crucify him' (Mark 15:13). He endured the indignities and physical abuse of His trials before Jewish and Roman leaders. Through His atonement and resurrection, He provided for all mankind both immortality and the possibility of eternal life. He paid the penalty for our sins if we will repent of them. How grateful I am for the effect upon me of His love and His perseverance!"