Manie was easy to miss at church. She was a tiny, quiet woman who spent much of the service perched behind the organ of our small church in Illinois. Those who really knew her would tell you she was a giant. With a very small number of people, you have to accept the truth of Romans 3:23 by faith and not by sight. Manie was one of those people for me, a true saint. She spent most of her life waiting and hoping to get married. One of the few things she wanted in life was a family. She was married finally in 1972 at the age of 55. Her husband, Edward, died in 1996 before I had the chance to meet him. She never had biological children of her own, but Manie was blessed with a large spiritual family. She taught the same third- and fourth-grade Sunday school class for over seventy years! Try to imagine that. Most of us measure our commitments in hours or days. She committed to teaching 9 and 10-year-olds long enough to see multiple generations of young people come through her class. Most of the elders in the church had learned their books of the Bible from Manie and so had their kids. One of the mistakes that I made as a young minister in that church was asking Manie if she needed a break from teaching her class. It was the only time I saw the woman angry. In addition to teaching Sunday school, she also played the organ in the church every single Sunday. She finally agreed to retire at the age of 100.
I had already left that country church long before Manie died at the age of 102. When I got the news, I started thinking about all those days sitting with her in her living room watching birds through the front window and sipping tea. Christians like Manie aren’t famous. They don’t gather crowds. They don’t write books. They don’t have large social media platforms. No, in our world that tends to gravitate towards the fresh, the new, and the young, Christians like Manie—and there are many of them—aren’t famous. But they should be.
Manie may have been tiny in stature and quiet in disposition, but she exemplified the virtue of spiritual tenacity, or what I call, “holy grit.” In her popular book on grit, author Angela Duckworth says, “Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it.” Generally speaking, a gritty person is someone who doesn’t give up or drop out. A gritty person sets a goal and is not distracted or deterred from it. Duckworth argued that many people are successful not necessarily because they are more gifted or talented than others but because they possess a gritty determination that other people lack. What Duckworth identified as a general principle applies to the life of faith as well. Put simply, holy grit is caring so much about faith in Christ that a person is willing to stay loyal to it through all of the diverse and difficult seasons of life. To have holy grit is to possess a stubborn faith, a stubbornness which grants a person patience, contentment, and even joy amid the many frustrations and mundanities of life. To have holy grit is to continue to show up week after week, year after year, decade after long decade, teaching the same Sunday school class, singing the same songs, giving sacrificially, praying humbly, and remaining a quiet but confident witness of God’s faithfulness.
Holy grit is more than simply holding on to faith as if it were merely an accessory decorating our life. Holy grit is about a life carried along by a resilient, living faith—a faith that is both in Christ and moving toward Christ. Author Eugene Peterson labeled this kind of faith “a long obedience in the same direction.” This understanding of the Christian life as a journey requiring sustained resilience was familiar to the writers of the New Testament, particularly Paul. One of his favorite metaphors for the Christian life was running a race (1 Cor. 9:24–27; Gal. 5:7; Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:7). Paul was bluntly honest, and he spoke from personal experience carrying the scars of faith on his body. The Christian life is no walk in the park. It is a race requiring strict training, bodily discipline, and a mind firmly set on finishing the race. There’s little virtue found in merely starting a race. People with holy grit “run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Cor. 9:24b). It would do us all well to take note of and learn from the Manies in our lives who have lived with this kind of faith. They may have some valuable things to teach us about developing this gritty faith that lasts.
Chad is pictured here with his wife, Tara.
Chad is a part of our Christ’s Church family and serves as the Academic Dean at Ozark Christian College, one of our Impact partners. He and his wife, Tara, have served for many years teaching classes and leading in our Student Ministry. They have three children, Logan, Adeline, and Ryane.
This piece is an excerpt from his book Holy Grit: Reflections on Hebrews for Cultivating a Faith that Lasts, which is available now.