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Persistence is a noble quality—unless you’re sticking to the wrong thing. But the difference can be tricky to discern.
After a business failure, Paul Kapsalis learned to prayerfully discern the difference between situations that call for perseverance, and situations that call for surrender to God’s will. And he’s sharing his life-changing insights with all of us.
Kapsalis’s story begins with an extraordinary underdog victory when he was in college. He was captain of the number one soccer team in the country at Indiana University in the 1980s. But the road to that position was not easy.
Told he wasn’t good enough to play for the Hoosiers, Kapsalis heroically beat the odds. He walked on to the team and sustained a career-threatening injury, but recovered to ultimately become a team leader and co-captain on the country’s most elite team.
His athletic success is chronicled in his book, To Chase A Dream. His dogged determination helped him succeed as a young man, but over the years, he’s realized that perseverance alone is not enough. Holiness also requires peaceful surrender and reliance on God.
The video is one in a series of OSV Talks, which shine a light on creative means of evangelization, springing from the wisdom and deep prayer that energize these approaches. The talks, which are similar to TED Talks but with a Catholic focus, are free and available for anyone to watch at OSVTalks.com.
Kapsalis went on to marry his college sweetheart, Sherri, and have three children. His mother had a soccer specialty store, and he joined her business team after college. He opened a second location of the store and helped manage both.
For a while, running the soccer stores was a dream come true. Kapsalis and his family enjoyed sharing the sport they loved, including with camps and clinics affiliated with the store.
Their welcoming and joyful approach was a great success: U.S. Soccer recognized their store as the best soccer specialty store in the country.
Things took a turn for the worse, however, when Kapsalis took over the business and his parents retired. He wasn’t content to run a great “mom and pop” store, but wanted to drastically grow the business and spread the stores all over the country.
Before long, he was “working like a dog,” he said. The business took over his life, in a very unhealthy way. He recalls,
This thing became a false idol. I became consumed by and with this business. It was awful… This albatross was crushing. I wasn’t able to be myself.
He found himself routinely working 80 hours a week. His relationship with his family suffered. “When I wasn’t spending my time at the office, I certainly wasn’t present with them,” he said.
Worst of all, even his relationship with God was affected. “Church became a place of anxiety and fear and grasping,” he said.
Before then, he had relied on perseverance as the solution to any obstacles. He was convinced that he could pull himself up by the bootstraps, if he just persisted as he always had. “Work harder. Dig yourself out,” he thought at the time.
But he hadn’t considered that this was one situation when perseverance would not help. “Perseverance can be a gift, but it can also be a blind spot,” he said. Persistence becomes problematic when it’s applied to the wrong goal.
At last, circumstances forced a major change. His business failed, a deeply painful moment for him. He asked himself, “Where do I go from here?”
Yet this moment that seemed like failure ended up being a gift. “What I found was an inner peace,” he said, “knowing everything is going to be okay.”
He came to realize that some situations call for surrendering to God’s will, instead of persisting as he always had. Before then, he admits, “I never understood the concept of surrender,” he said. “Surrender, to me, was giving up.”
At last, he understood, “That’s not giving up; it’s a beautiful letting go … Don’t be so persevering that you miss what’s going on in your life.”
Knowing when to persevere and when to trustingly surrender to God’s will can be difficult to discern, but it’s a key distinction in the spiritual life. Understanding the difference calls for prayer and staying attuned to God’s voice.
Kapsalis offers many other wise insights in his talk. He encourages his listeners to cherish the people whom God has placed in our lives. Let’s savor what God has given us in the present moment, he says, instead of feeling dissatisfied and always chasing after “more.”
“Go through the doors that are open,” Kapsalis urges us. “Follow the path He’s got in store for us.” Along that path lies the peace of Christ, when we clear away the noise of the world to listen and follow.
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