“I know you hate math, honey, but you still have to do it. Don’t give up; be stubborn and get it done.”
Those words left my mouth a week before I was whacked with the humility stick and learned how wrong I was to encourage my kids to be stubborn.
Divine timing had a wise friend call and we ended up chatting about the vital difference between “stubbornness” vs “perseverance”. While I had meant to encourage my daughter to finish her math with the virtue of perseverance, I had unintentionally been speaking of the vice.
That conversation has been eye-opening to me.
Inheriting the Family Stubbornness
I was raised in a family where being strong-willed was portrayed as a virtue, a sense of pride. It was almost considered our identity.
Our family never complains and we push through in our self-reliance, no matter what life throws at us.
Now, having sifted through my memories, I have noticed the apathy and independence in my family was not as healthy and strong as I thought.
And I regret (and have asked forgiveness) for encouraging that mentality in myself and my kids, instead of enlightening them about true perseverance.
Is Stubbornness that Bad?
Stubbornness is a form of self-protection. It safeguards our hearts from fear, pain, or vulnerability.
We create a wall around our hearts, refusing to listen to reason or accept help. Our hearts become stone, hardened.
When someone has a stubborn heart, we see rotten fruits like:
- hidden anxiety or avoidance
- hurt relationships
- emotional numbness
- anger, bitterness
The Virtue of Perseverance
On the other hand, perseverance is a form of docility modeled by Our Lady who trusted God in every circumstance.
When we practice this virtue, we bear the fruit of peace, fortitude, hope, and humility.
Perseverance in a crisis, whether it is a family emergency or getting that math homework done, does not build up a wall to keep others out. It opens our hearts to grace.
We become humble enough to reach out a hand and accept help.
Notice Your Body
How can we tell which one we are choosing? Our body language can be one clue to whether we are open or closed to God and our families.
Think of a three-year-old who does not want to leave the park. When we see a child crossing her arms or by figuratively (sometimes literally?) “digging in her heels”, this posture tells us to take a bolstering sip of our coffee and prepare for battle. She has fortified the walls and raised the drawbridge so we cannot easily get in.
Stubbornness has an “unlistening” spirit: one will not budge on principle, even if it means ignoring the logical thing to do. Saint Augustine refers to these souls as “those who… are so stubborn and contentious that they refuse to give in even if they do understand.”
Turns out stubbornness and perseverance are very different in their effect on the heart and relationships.
WEEKLY BLOG UPDATES (+ more!)We'll send you the blog updates weekly in your inbox (with some special tips + tricks to living liturgically from our Blog Editor, Olivia Spears).
Finding the Root of Your Family’s Stubbornness
This year been a time of grief for all of us in different ways.
Did you know there are many types of grief and loss beyond bereavement? Psychology Today summarizes them into 4 subtle types. And I’m sure each of us has experienced at least one, if not more:
- Loss of identity: layoffs, missed career and educational opportunities, social outings, church community
- Loss of safety: fear of illness and death, troubled marriages and domestic violence, job security
- Loss of autonomy: lockdown restrictions, helplessness in illness, financial setbacks
- Loss of dreams: cancelled trips, plans for 2020/2021, postponed or limited special events
We are grieving these losses. Our kids too. But how are we dealing with them? By putting up a protective wall or with docile perseverance trusting God will get us through this?
And what have we been showing our kids in this crisis? That we always have it all together? That our family pushes on despite cracking on the inside? Or how to be at peace in the valleys, how to turn to God when there is no immediate answer and we are surrounded by water filling up our little boat in this storm?
Have you shown your kids how to grieve their losses? Or how to stuff them away?
After that enlightening conversation with my friend, I realized how much I have chosen the latter. In my desire to build my kids’ resilience, I have neglected to first acknowledge their feelings of anger, helplessness, and sadness in trials.
I unknowingly planted seeds of stubbornness in my kiddos by repeating to them my generational mantra: push through no matter what.
Maybe you see the same rotten fruits in your kids but, like me, did not realize where the root came from?
- disobedience and arguing
- passive-aggressive silence
- lack of empathy for their siblings
- controlling, need to be right
Does this sound a little too familiar? There is a very simple way to help your family break down their walls and begin healing.
After that phone call, I knew God was calling my family to repent from our stubborn hearts and ask Him for healing.
Using a worksheet I had created to make the prayer activity more concrete, here’s what we did for family prayer this past week:
- I explained our hearts can build walls as a form of protection, and gave specific examples that concerned our family.
- These walls (which I named “stubbornness”) block God’s healing and peace from entering our hearts.
- We prayed together about what stones we have been using as building blocks for our walls.
- I made sure to validate the feelings they had when they were trying to protect their hearts, and encouraged them to share them with Jesus instead.
- We repented as a family and asked forgiveness for each specific stone we used in our wall. We promised to lovingly help each other stay on track this coming week.
- Then, we invited the Divine Healer to break down these walls and fill us with true perseverance so we could have lasting peace.
- We finished with Scripture: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36: 26).
Ready to Try?
You can grab the Break the Walls worksheet here to guide your kids through the reflection. I explained each stone and gave gentle examples of what I had noticed in their behaviour.
With God’s grace, your family will break free from the hurtful traits you’ve been noticing and grow peaceful hearts.
Maria Weir is a Canadian wife and mom. She has a degree in Psychology, now gathering dust as she cares for her 3 bio kids and 2 bonus kids with medical and special needs. She decidedly does not have a coffee addiction. Much. You can catch more hands-on resources on faith and family life skills on the blog, Stand Up, Reach Out.