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Quit—America’s 4 Letter Word, or is it?

I used to think quitting was akin to a 4 letter word; something that ought not be uttered, much less attempted.

During the past year, however, circumstances have caused me to rethink why quitting, or giving up, carries such negative connotations.

Growing up, I heard quotes like: 

Winners never quit, and quitters never win. Vince Lombardi
Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about. Winston Churchhill
Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever. Lance Armstrong

Don’t get me wrong; I fully believe in persevering in the face of fear, pain, or struggle when achieving certain goals or virtuous living.

But while the steadfast creed of our country’s origin, “Never give up,” helped us survive and thrive, should this mantra continue to shape us so categorically?

Digging deeper, I found clarity from related synonyms:

  • Abandonment
  • Forbearance
  • Refusal
  • Rejection
  • Relinquishment
  • Renunciation
  • Sacrifice
  • Self-denial

and personal reflection also rendered:

  • Pivot
  • Repentance
  • Turning point

quit

Rethinking our cultural narratives around quitting, I consider it appropriate—even good and right—to quit, or pivot, in certain situations. A few examples might include:

  • busyness
  • rumination
  • habitual phone checking/scrolling
  • a toxic relationship
  • a change in interest or circumstances
  • stress eating
  • drinking
  • comparison
  • conflict avoidance 

You get the point. It seems God designed us to quit during different sessions, for various reasons. 

God even talks about quitting. Sometimes, He calls it repentance—changing the mind, a reversal, or turning away from. 

Could it be, without appropriate quitting, our lives would be what the great philosopher Solomon called striving after the wind. (Eccl.1:14)

What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? Ecc.2:22

Looking back, striving caused me stress, pain, exhaustion, anxiety, and even depression. The perpetual motion of America’s hamster wheel propelled me into chaos as a young mother. Feeling societal pressure to join multiple sports, activities, clubs, and play dates left me exhausted, yet blind, because everyone else engaged in the same distraction and discord. Eventually, I no longer even perceived the endless running to nowhere, and my whole family suffered for it.

A few reasons for the systemic aversion to quitting may be rooted in biases such as sunk cost aversion and loss aversion.

In his 2013 study of 20,000 participants on the verge of a big decision to quit, John List, economist and author, found that those who quit were happier 6 months later than those who stayed in the job, relationship, or city.

I wish I’d understood the secret delights of desisting and resting in God and His plans. 

Cease striving and know that I am God. Psl.49:10

Of course, it’s good to work, serve, and care for those in our lives, but there is a distinctive difference between striving and working. Striving is to compete, contend, fight, hassle, push, strain, and struggle.

Lately, I’ve learned to ask why when I find myself striving. Usually, a desire to control is the culprit. 

Hearing the serenity prayer recently reminded me of the power in releasing what is not mine to control.

Printable Serenity Prayer

The full prayer renders context, color, and clarity.

Full Serenity Prayer Printable

2 lines particularly struck me:

Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.

Trusting He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.

This reflects a daily practice of quitting. Giving up control—my will, my way—to His infinitely more wise, loving, kind, and generous ways. 

  • When my Mom’s death left unanswered questions, cease striving and focus on healing.
  • When a loved one’s health is uncertain, give up trying to control the situation.
  • Reasonably quit fighting the inevitable—aging: sagging skin, aching joints, and general decline—things over which I have (some but) little control.
  • When a loved one engages in unhealthy behavior, quit trying to manage them and other people’s impression of them. Instead, consider lovingly confronting and/or setting healthy boundaries.
  • When a child is learning to find their way, give up lawnmower parenting, prayerfully and wisely appropriating space so they experience the successes and failures of young adulthood.

Of course, reasonableness reigns in each of these situations. We do what we can to stay healthy, maintain relationships, and help others. The key word changing the way I accomplish these things is control. 

This quitting business affords the balance between controlling the variables I can and letting go of what I cannot. In prayer, I release them into the hands of my strong and caring King. My job is to partner with Him as He leads me. Some ways I’ve learned to practice partnership are:

  • Prayer
  • Understanding Him through Scripture
  • Community
  • Solitude and journaling

Potentially alleviating stress, anxiety, and depression, it’s a lifelong lesson in letting go. When I fail, I either offer myself compassion and try again tomorrow, or descend into shame and guilt.

Might there be quitting in your future too? Has busyness left you and your family distracted and scattered, leaving little room for laughter, leisure, and rest? Is your soul craving a little less chaos? Why not ask your friend, Jesus, for some clarity?  He’s a gentle and capable guide.

the light of hope

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

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