sharper focus “Persistence”

By Kelly Pontsler, Major

“Hang in there!”

Three short words that inspire a variety of responses. For some, the phrase is full of encouragement; for others, it just rubs the wrong way. Of course, tone of voice and speed of delivery have something (a lot) to do with the interpretation of the utterance. However it’s expressed, there’s something to be said for a challenge to perseverance. Never give up, never give in. Get the job done!

Blame it on the polar bear.

My dad loved zoos. From the time he was a little kid in San Diego, when about the only thing they could afford was the nickel to get in, he was never happier than when carving out some time to roam among the cages and enclosures of the local zoo. I’m pretty sure my initial outing to see the animals happened well before my first birthday.

One of my dad’s lifetime desires was to volunteer at a zoo, something he accomplished with great pride a couple of years after his retirement. He received training, memorized the layout of the zoo, and decided to work with the birds. Big birds or small, they were captivating to my dad. Phone calls from home were filled with details of the latest happenings at the Oregon Zoo.

I had never really thought of our family as “bird people,” so it was something of a mystery to me. I’m more of a big animal person, myself. Elephants and tigers and giraffes—now those are worth seeing! So it was no surprise that I recently found myself face-to-face with a polar bear. There was a pretty thick slab of protective glass between us, but he caught my attention.

As I approached the enclosure, it was the noise that piqued my intrigue first. Whomp, whomp, whomp; whomp, whomp, whomp; whack, whomp. On a beautiful autumn day, the bear had entertainment. What looked to be a large carrot had been shoved into a white, plastic, 55-gallon drum. The bear could see it and smell it, but he couldn’t reach it. The unplugged fill holes in the top of the drum were too small for his giant paws to squeeze through. So this massive, shaggy bear was attempting to break the drum in two. He’d already managed to make a crack in the side, but not as yet large enough to reach the carrot. With the full weight of his thousand pounds, he used his front paws to push down on the drum, over and over again. The whomp, whomp, whomp of the bending plastic reverberated around the enclosure and echoed down the covered walkway. From time to time he’d give the drum a swat with his massive arm…whack! He’d upend the drum, peer inside, push it over and start the process all over again. Determination to get that carrot gave that bear a substantial workout.

It made me wonder. When was the last time I went after something with that same tenacious vigor? How about you? Life is a marathon, not a sprint. No doubt, like you, my weeks are filled to overflowing with an endless list of things to do (most of them important), and there are times it would be nice to just snap my fingers and have the desk cleared. Not every matter can be handled in one try. Not many problems are resolved with one conversation. The pace is relentless and it can be exhausting at times. You know what I mean.

I don’t know how long I stood there—seemed like forever. His persistence and perseverance were inspiring. All that for a carrot. I wanted to shout out, “hang in there” but was afraid the other zoo visitors might think I was a bit crazy. So I just shouted it out in my heart, and then bought a notecard with his photo on it to put on my bulletin board at the office.

As I walked away from the polar bear enclosure, the words of the Apostle Paul came to mind: We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame (Rom. 5:3-5 ESV).

Never give up, never give in. By God’s grace and with his help, we can get the job done.

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