By Eddie Pipkin

Image by Dmitry Abramov from Pixabay

I love reading about quirky phrases, so I was delighted when I came across this one sometime in the past few months — I can’t even remember where; surely in New Orleans when I was there for a weekend in December: “Lache pas a la patate!”  (Or the Cajun transliteration, “Losh la pa tot!”)  The straightforward translation to English from the French is, “Don’t let go of the potato!”  But the true Cajun spirit of this phrase when used in southern Louisiana and thereabouts is a heartfelt and encouraging shorthand for “Don’t give up!”  Or in the parlance of 1970s bedroom poster affirmations, “Hang in there, baby!”  However you say it, it’s a great mid-summer reminder.

It’s fun, right?  This idea of holding on to one’s potato with an unwavering grip and a gritty smile on one’s face, no matter what.  Why this humble vegetable may be in danger of slipping from our grip, no one can say for sure; the origins of the phrase are shrouded in mystery.  It’s not a diamond!  Not a Rolex!  Not the secret plans to a criminal lair!  But the fact that we’re holding for dear life to something so seemingly easily to replace is part of the charm.  Maybe a simple potato is all we have left; maybe it has nostalgic meaning beyond its homely appearance; maybe we underestimate the importance of this basic tuber. Who’s to say?  But we’re hanging on tight, come hell or high water, and we’re not going to let go now.

In the spirit of summer blockbusters, we can imagine it’s the kind of thing that one of Ethan Hunt’s sidekicks might whisper to him before he rides his motorcycle off a cliff.  It’s a phrase that one of Oppenheimer’s underlings might have scrawled on the chalkboard when the invention of the atomic bomb looked in doubt.  It’s the sort of aphorism that Ken might shout to Barbie as she ventures from her pink plastic universe into the cold, hard world of reality.

We all need a hopeful prompt to “hold on to our potatoes!”

I was reminded of this as I perused the midsummer sports calendar.  Unknown journeyman tennis pro Christopher Eubanks chases an improbable victory at Wimbledon!  The U.S. Women’s soccer team readies for World Cup play!  Rookies take the floor at the NBA Summer League, scrambling to make a name for themselves!  Somebody, anybody tries to beat Max Verstappen in a Formula 1 race!  The great Mark Cavendish goes down in the Tour de France with a broken collarbone, dashing his quest for most stage wins in history!  Shohei Ohtani shatters the record books while pitching and catching for a floundering Angels team!  Lionel Messi arrives on the shores of Miami to change Major League Soccer forever!  Dreams are born; dreams are crushed; dreams are adapted and transformed in the face of new developments; improbable heroes surge to the front of our consciousness; superstars from bygone years fade ingloriously into the background; athletes keep working, keep gripping those dreams for all they’re worth, sweating and striving and giving their all.

Beyond sports, on the world stage where lives hang in the balance, the freedom fighters of Ukraine are “holding on to their potatoes.”  The victims of the Vermont floods are “holding on to their potatoes.”  The marginalized, the abused, the neglected, the lonely, the homeless, and the hopeless are all “holding on to their potatoes” as best they can.  In just the past couple of days, I found out health news from four different friends who are facing life-threatening challenges and finding ways to “hold on to their potatoes” as they deal with a new reality.  Faith and hope are all about not losing our grip (on way more than vegetables).

The Bible celebrates persistence and perseverance.  You can look to the stories of Job, the young David, the prophet Jeremiah (called to preach to an unfaithful people), and the Apostle Paul as examples of people who hung in there and served with courage and love when service (and even love) seemed like desperate and doomed choices.  You might have forgotten Jesus’s tale of a plucky matriarch who chose to “hold on to her potatoes”: “The Parable of the Persistent Widow” in Luke 18:1-8.  The widow refuses to give up and give in and eventually she wears down the ornery judge – the passage seems to make the case that it isn’t the brilliance of her argument or even the righteousness of her cause that carries the day.  It is the sheer, audacious magnitude of her persistence itself!

There is much to be said for “hanging in there.”  I always took to heart the advice that hitting coaches give to slumping batters: “Just keep swinging.”  You must stay in the batter’s box to have any chance of hitting the ball again.  It’s parallel to Michael Jordan’s famous adage, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  Keep taking shots and good things can happen.

I know there are plenty of you right now who, in your ministry capacities, are slogging through a challenging time:

  • A program that’s not working out like you had planned.
  • An event that is running into constant, unwieldy obstacles.
  • A professional accomplishment that seems stubbornly elusive.
  • A person who is impossible to work with no matter what you try.
  • A failure of leadership that is holding you back and making you miserable.
  • A congregation that seems uninterested in growth and change.
  • A sense of failure to grasp changing technology.
  • A worry that people’s priorities no longer align with the sacred work you are called to do.
  • A dearth of creativity in your own work.
  • A lack of resources.
  • A sense that you can’t communicate your deepest fears with those who matter to you the most.

If any of these situations is your current reality, I’d just like to say, “Whatever you do, don’t let go of your potato!”  Even if you are not feeling the doom and the gloom, you’re just finding yourself in the hardest season of a long project, “Grip that potato as tightly as you can!”  You’ve got this.  Keep praying.  Keep relying on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  Keep leaning into the support of the people that love you.  And keep on keeping on.

In researching the phrase, “Lache pas a la patate,” I came across a 2011 blog by Jennifer Ledet of Ledet Management in which explores the deeper meaning behind a saying she had heard used many times in her youth.  She identifies these six attributes of the Cajun people as related to this concept of non-potato-dropping persistence:

  • Values
  • Courage
  • Integrity
  • Commitment
  • Hope
  • Joie de vivre (love of life)

Thanks to Jennifer for that collection of great things to keep in mind as we’re hanging on day to day.  We can keep our core values foremost in everything we do; we can act from a place other than fear; we can do the right thing; we can keep our promises, large and small; we can believe in the upside of the future; we can take joy wherever and whenever we can find it.

If we do those things – if we remain faithful and steadfast – if we work hard and keep plugging away – if we’re honest about the difficulty of the struggle without giving in to despondency or focusing on the negative – we will, like the widow in the story, persevere.

Just, whatever you do, don’t drop that potato!

What’s the hardest part for you about pressing ahead when the way is weary?  What gets you through the rough patches?  Share your story in the comments section and know that we here at EMC3 are cheering for you always.  Lift up those potatoes in triumph!