What’s the definition of insanity?

One night, amidst a a hail of sarcastic barbs with a past roommate, the thought occurred–people often bring up an allegedly Einsteinian quote:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. – Einstein, maybe

To give an example of how this quote might be weaponized: your friend has been buying Powerball tickets religiously for a year, and each time he says to you, “this’ll be the time!” You say, “Hey Ed, what did Einstein says the definition of insanity was?”

Let me show a different definition here:

To persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement.The Free Dictionary

This, of course, is the official definition of perseverance. But I am surprised by the similarities between the concept of perseverance and what some would consider insanity. For what is perseverance but doing the same thing over and over again in hopes of a different result?

When someone gets up and goes running each day in hopes of losing weight or a faster mile, they may not always see immediate results. It’s true that some alterations happen overnight, but often, significant transformations take years of careful development. Along the way, it can become discouraging to see an apparent lack of progress, brought on by a narrow-sighted view that only sees the number on the scale that is greater than yesterday’s.

But even in this apparent trough, perseverance is producing habits that can easily produce long-term rewards. If a weightlifter practices good technique instead of simply “maxing out” during each workout, he or she will initially not be lifting as much weight as possible, and this may be discouraging–I could be doing more! But persevering and mastering technique on easier weights becomes critical later in avoiding injuries on heavier lifts. In all walks of life, persevering has benefits.

For believers and unbelievers alike, perseverance is a virtue that can have many positive effects. But we can take it even further for the Christian. We know from Scripture, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, that for believers perseverance is produced by suffering. Suffering, pain, adversity, all work to elicit perseverance from a person. In this way (and others not mentioned here but outlined also in James 1 and 1 Peter 4), suffering is actually a blessing to believers, for without suffering we would never learn to persevere in trusting God, and without perseverance we will not experience what Paul says is the outcome of perseverance: character. And character leads to another blessing – hope.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5

What are areas of your life that you need to be persevering in? Areas where you may have been discouraged and slacked off? Look to God’s promises in his word, and know that when we persevere it is not without hope but with expectant hope, because we have a reliable redeemer who is worthy to be followed with all the grit and determination we can muster.

One thought on “Insanity Builds Character

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