As a kindergarten teacher at a classical Christian school, I recently came across two secular authors who challenged my thinking. For years I wrestled with a lack of confidence and purpose. But intentional Bible study and the influence of godly mentors helped me build a strong biblical identity. So when I encountered Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, I was intrigued. I set out to explore what place, if any, their ideas of tenacious determination and the mind’s malleability have in a biblical worldview.
In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth says, “Grit has two components: passion and perseverance” (page 56). She goes on,
“Thinking of yourself as someone who is able to overcome tremendous adversity often leads to behavior that confirms that self-conception ... You get up again no matter what ... You don’t let setbacks hold you back. Grit is who you are” (page 252).
Grit is best portrayed in the lives of Olympic athletes. Every four years, millions watch as athletes exert sustained focused determination in order to accomplish the goal of being the best in the world.
Soldiers also exhibit grit. They endure rigorous, even torturous, routines in order to rise up as the triumphant defenders of their country. They dig deep into their psyche to overcome the obstacles of war. Grit is who they are.
Duckworth’s call to being a gritty person inspired me. It made me want to push harder, focus more intently, and run out to the nearest gym to begin a vigorous exercise routine. After all, Scripture has plenty of gritty people. Paul wanted to be sure in Galatians 2:2 that he was not running his race in vain. He endured shipwrecks, floggings, beatings, and more in order to accomplish the goals set before him to proclaim the good news of Christ.
If anyone modeled a gritty life it was our Lord Jesus himself. He did not let hunger, or storms, or betrayal, keep him from his goal of saving a people for himself.
Dweck’s philosophy of a growth mindset is similar to grit, but mindset has a stronger focus on mental effort and strategy. Dweck says of a growth mindset,
“The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life” (page 6).
Dweck goes on to explain that it is our effort — our human effort — that is the key to a growth mindset.
“No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment” (page 41).
Dweck also suggests that effort alone is not enough. When we meet failure, we must learn from it and create a new path for success. This idea is appealing. What if we could, through conscious effort and strategy, become more than we ever believed? What if the labels we have allowed to stick to us were not stuck forever? Perhaps we could navigate a path to success in those latent areas after all.
Again, the idea of growth mindset like that of grit, is found in Scripture. For example, 2 Peter 3:18 reminds us to,
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:2 exhorts us to “grow up” in our salvation.
Though Grit and Mindset both have sparks of truth in them, their ideologies deny humanity’s greatest dilemma. What happens when we die? What is it all for?
The difference between Jesus’ tenacious grit and that of the world was his purpose. Jesus came to earth not to win the contests of life but to overcome death. He did not aspire to success or greatness but made himself humble and became a servant, even choosing to die a humiliating death on a cross for our sake. Christ did not run the race of life for his own gain but for the glory of God.
A gritty Christian knows that being all God wants him or her to be may bring worldly success or it may actually look like failure. Generations of martyrs stand as witnesses to this truth. If we are to cultivate grit let it come from the deep well of Christ in us and let it be for the purpose of glorifying God, not ourselves. Let us be gritty for Christ.
In the same way, realizing we are capable of becoming more is transformational if anchored in the power of Christ, but lethal if aligned with the cultural messages of narcissism and self-help. It is possible to develop a growth mindset in our own strength. But the outcome has no eternal significance. It’s chasing after the wind. Worse, it’s toxic to the spiritual calling we have in Christ. Why do we need him if we can become the architects of our own lives? We must beware that the desire to grow our intellect does not place us in the dangerous position of the women in 2 Timothy 3:7. He says they were “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
There is a way to be gritty and become more than we ever believed.
Because of Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection, we who believe in him and are saved are no longer bound by our inadequacies and insecurities.
Romans 12:12 tells us we have been “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” We are children of the great God of the universe who grants us hope for this life and the life to come. He has granted us “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). He has given us “a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). He loves us so much he has prepared a place for us and called us according to his intention and his purpose. This view has given me the courage to accomplish things that are only done through the power of Christ.
Everything we are comes from God. He gives and he takes away. If we set out to be the architects of our own future or the authors of our own intellect, we may “succeed” but we are on dangerous footing. Remember Nebuchadnezzar? When he stood glorifying his own “gritty” efforts, God, in that moment, removed Nebuchadnezzar’s intellect and caused him to live like a mad man. It wasn’t until God in his sovereignty restored the king’s mind that Nebuchadnezzar was even able to acknowledge, that
“the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Daniel 4:32)
Grit and a growth mindset are integral to a biblical worldview only if anchored firmly in the depths of who we are in Christ. We are like athletes and soldiers, and we were meant to be more than we ever thought we could be, when Christ lives in us.
Joleen Steel, is an Explorers 11 (Kindergarten) teacher at Clapham School. She is the former owner and lead teacher of New Song Music Studios. Mrs. Steel is the author of Music for Little Learners as well as several children’s books. In her spare time she speaks at homeschool events and women’s retreats about raising disciples who disciple others. Mrs. Steel is married to Pastor David Steel, together they have three boys and a cute dog named Molly.