How God Used a Lunchtime Stranger to Teach Me About Determination

Finding Your Determination — A True Story

As a young man who was not yet even twenty, I attended college, pursuing a degree in accounting.

During my first year, given that I was very shy and introverted, and having had no close friends, I would eat my lunches alone, sitting on a bench on the university lawn. This enabled me to avoid the hustle and bustle of the dining halls, where most everyone else enjoyed their meals, while socializing.

One day as I approached my usual bench, I noticed another young man was already sitting there. Thinking back to that day, I remember that I was quite annoyed. That was my bench. “Go get your own,” I thought.

As I walked by him, he must have noticed I was carrying a bagged lunch, and he asked if I wanted to sit down. Begrudgingly, I did. We introduced ourselves. His name was David.

After I began to eat my sandwich I remember looking over at this fellow, and thinking that he looked very poor. His pants had rips (and not the cool kind of rips that many people do themselves), and his shoes looked as if they should have been retired many years prior.

A Life Changing Conversation

I asked him if it was it his first year at the school and further inquired as to what he was majoring in. Turns out he was working on his general education classes, with plans to move on to pre-law at a university. I was impressed. I knew that some people do in fact become lawyers, but I had never really met anyone who had the determination to actually pursue it.

As we talked and exchanged tidbits from our lives, I learned that David grew up in a small town about two hours from the college. A small depressed town.

In fact, David grew up very poor, much more so than I had originally suspected. His mother died when he was a young boy, and his father raised him and his three siblings by himself. David was the oldest, so as his father went to work every day at one of the local factories, after school each day, David watched over his brother and two sisters, while also doing his homework. He also had a part-time job washing dishes at a local restaurant in the evenings several days a week.

I asked him why he wanted to be a lawyer. He told me that he wanted to help others that couldn’t help themselves. He wanted to make a difference. And when his uncle asked him at the age of 14 what he wanted to be when he grew up … “a lawyer,” was his response.

And from that day, he said he was determined to make it happen. He came in a tie with a fellow classmate to be the valedictorian of his high school, and between saving the money from his part-time job, and being blessed with well-deserved scholarships, he was able to attend college. The first in his family to ever do so.

David told me he couldn’t afford living close to the college, so he drove to school every day from his hometown.

I asked him how he had the time and strength to do this day after day. He responded by telling me that God gave him the strength.

As I sat and listened to David humbly recount fragments of his life story, and his current situation, my only thought was that he inspired me.

Our only connection was that I also grew up quite poor, and that my father died when I was very young. But I definitely didn’t share his determination. At that point in my life, I was clueless as to how to proceed with my life, other than trying to show up for class on time every day. And sadly, at that point in my life, I had no interest in knowing God.

But David definitely inspired me not only with his determination, but also with his humble, kind and peaceful attitude. Here was this young man whom, when faced with so many adversities, decided: this is what I want, and this is what I am going to do to make it happen.

I’d like to claim that I was there in the audience when David received his law degree. I’d like to claim that David went on to become a lawyer who championed moral justice. I’d like to claim that David and I went on to become life long friends.

But regretfully, I never saw David again.

I went back to that same bench many times that year, hoping to see him and strike up another conversation, but he was never there.

But regardless, I have never had a doubt in my mind that he did it. That he became the lawyer he wanted to be, helping people, just as he wanted to do.

A Determination to Persevere 

David had a goal from the age of 14, and he worked hard and saw his goals become a reality. I knew it then, and I know it to this day.

And the most important thing I took from that brief encounter is that David has always since reminded me that a goal without actions is really not a goal at all.

David showed me that there is a big difference between saying you want something, and actually working to make it happen.

In my mind, I imagine that David worked and strived hard, perhaps even harder and with more adversity than other young students who also wanted to persevere.

Saying you want something is one thing, but actually doing something about it is very different. We prove what we desire most by our actions, not by our words. Where our treasure is — there will be our heart also.

We see this and experience it all the time, in others, and in our own lives.

And since finding my faith shortly after having met David, I can’t help but recognize the determination that each of us needs to live the type of life that God wants from each of us.

We want to be forgiving, but how often do we continue to hold grudges?

We want to be more patient, but do we truly make the changes in our thoughts and actions to demonstrate patience?

We want to start being more charitable, but do we avoid people who call on us for help?

We desire to have more gratitude for what we have, but how often do we continue to want more, instead of appreciating what we already have?

Or how about this one? We desire to love God with our whole heart and soul, but how often do we find reasons not include him in our lives, whether consciously or unconsciously?

Less Talk, More Action

How often is what we say we want different from what we actually pursue?

Again, saying you want something is one thing, doing something about it is very different. We prove what we desire most by our actions, not by our words.

We should ask ourselves: Am I taking the necessary steps to grow closer in my relationship with God? A true relationship. Am I taking the steps to overcome my defects and let God turn them into virtues? And strive for continual determination.

Much how David was determined to see his goal become reality. We have to keep going and never give up — no matter how many times we fall and even if we fall hard. We cannot give up. God loves us and is merciful.

A desire to be a better person for God, without the necessary spiritual work to become that better person…is just wishful thinking.

Just how David showed and inspired me, it takes some work on our part.

Actions. Strength. Determination.

We can do this. Together. With God by our side.

Never give up.

Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIMEURE on Unsplash

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Alan Scott is a writer and graphic designer residing in Virginia. A former Agnostic, he converted to the Catholic faith in 2004. In 2014 he started his blog, and is the author of The Quest for Virtue, both which focus on growing in holiness, by attempting to live a life more simple and virtuous, a life that is lived for God. When he’s not writing or designing, you’ll find him, hands dirty, in his garden. You can find him on Facebook, too.

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