I was small growing up, but not as small as Philip Farley. We were both short, but he was also slighter in build than I was. I like to think that's why he was faster when we raced. However, he was also stronger than me and I had no explanation for that. There was also little logic to the fact that he could do more chin-ups than anyone else or when, at the end of Field Day, despite his size and frame, everyone wanted Philip on their side in the tug-of-war. Whether it was his steady gait in the mile run, his robotic endurance on the chin-up bar, or his tenacity and strength in the tug-of-war sand pit, Philip brought a single-minded focus to the matter at hand. The red ribbon tied to the middle of the rope would slowly and inexorably inch in the direction he and his side were pulling until it crossed the designated mark and everyone fell exhausted into the sand.
If you asked me back then what set this little kid apart, I think I?d have simply said, ?Philip tries harder than anyone else.? And that would be true, but that sentiment doesn't completely capture it. When I consider it now, my mind goes to a word I wouldn't have had the vocabulary to voice back in elementary school, but it's this: Conviction. He did everything as if he believed in it. I?m not even completely sure what that means, but he was present to whatever he was doing. Whatever it was, he was all in.
Conviction is that exceptional quality we embody when we?re staunchly persuaded that what we?re doing is right and true and good. It's a trait that seemingly wills a person toward a goal, especially when in a desperate pinch.
I was introduced to a Finnish word recently that captures this notion as well. Houston Astros coach Brent Strom, whose name belies his Scandinavian roots, called upon his pitchers to throw whatever pitch they chose?fastball, curve, change-up, or cutter?with sisu. ?People laugh at me about it,? Strom said, ?but ?sisu? is reminiscent of the time when the Soviets invaded Finland and [the Finnish] were outnumbered 3:1, 400 airplanes to 32, and 600 tanks to 27. And they kept them in a stalemate.? While the word doesn't really have an equivalent in English, a Finnish tourism website defines it as ?stoic determination, resilience, courage, bravery, willpower, tenacity and resilience.? Whether we call it sisu in Finnish or conviction in English, it is remarkable that we can call upon and reliably find an extra gear within ourselves if, in our souls, we believe in what we?re doing. In our vocations or avocations, in how we parent, in how we play and plan, in how we face adversity, and especially in how we live out our faith, we ought to ask and keep asking: Do we really believe in this? Do we really believe in what we?re doing right now? If not, what adjustments or changes need to be made so that we can, with enthusiasm and without hesitation, really put our backs into what we?re endeavoring to accomplish.
Think back to a time in which you had no doubt that the course of action you were taking was right, proper, and deeply aligned with a sense of calling consistent with your talents and gifts. How did it feel? Consider again what it's like to be all in within such a context. To feel that clarity of purpose. That purity of direction. That hyper-focus. That almost supernatural augmentation of energy and will. That readiness to exhaust yourself in pursuit of a worthy goal that perhaps only you can accomplish.
If there's not an area of your life where you can access this, what would it take for you to find it? Perhaps you'll have to take stock of what you do well, identify a purpose you know is enduring, and then find a venue where these two things intersect. When you see it, dig your heels into the sand, get a good grip, maybe whisper a little Finnish to yourself, and then pull with all you have. With conviction.
God? You've given me gifts and an inkling of why I?m here. And I recognize You've made me not to float about half-heartedly, but to live and act with conviction. May I find my grip and pull.