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One too many

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When giving up is the better choice.

 

“There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth… a right time to hold on and another to let go.” Ecclesiastes 3:1,6B MSG

 

It was a 1990 Mercury Sable, and it was a money pit. Every month, without fail, it was at the garage for repairs of some mechanical malady. It wasn’t until the cost of fixing this beast equalled its purchase price that I finally decided enough was enough and sold the lemon. I made a necessary ending.

Years later, I enrolled in a doctorate program, excited about sharpening my ministry skills. The church I served gave me the resources and space to complete the degree. At the time I was working full-time and raising three young children with my wife. After a year of study, I began to realize the negative impact my studies were having on my family. I was sacrificing time with my children and wife; time I could never recoup. My family needed me more than I needed another degree. I withdrew from the program.

Acknowledged to be the best hockey player in history, the “Great One” held 61 NHL records during his twenty-one years of play from 1978 – 1999. He won nine most valuable player trophies, five outstanding player of the year trophies and ten trophies for most points in a season. He scored a total of 894 goals and racked up 1963 assists during his hockey career. At the age of 38, to the stunned surprise of the NHL and his fans, Wayne Gretzky gave up his skates. It was said that he hoped to leave the fans wanting more rather than wishing for less. Many felt he quit too early; that he had so much more to offer the game and his fans. Gretzky stated that he had a gut feeling it was time: “It’s hard. This is a great game, but it’s a hard game. I’m ready.” His reoccurring back injuries, a sense that there was nothing of significance for him to accomplish record-wise, and a desire to spend more time with his family, were given as reasons for quitting one career and starting another. This new path included coaching, hockey team ownership and pursuing various business ventures. Gretzky believed  retirement from hockey was a necessary ending.

Consider the following narrative in the life of Jesus:

“One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. “Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes. Wherever you go, stay in the same house until you leave town. And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate” (Luke 9:1-5 NLT).

Here Jesus called for a necessary ending to a specific ministry for a specific time and situation despite the people’s desperate need to hear about, and respond to, the Kingdom of God that was unfolding before them. If they did not want to hear this good news, the disciples were to walk away, “abandoning” them to their fate. Sometimes even Jesus himself knew that there was a time to quit and move on and he directed his followers to do so. There was a time for a necessary ending.

 

“Prudent is the one who gives thought to their steps.” Proverbs 14:15B

 

“Sometimes the best way is a different way.” – Anonymous

 

My parents instilled in me the conviction to never, ever give up on anything. Like me, many of my generation were raised on the adage that “quitters never win.” I am truly thankful for my parents’ coaching; reminding me to stay the course, to hold the line, to never walk away. However, my life experiences have taught me that sometimes the best decision is, in fact, to bring something to an end. I have personally walked with colleagues who could not bring something to close that needed to end. Their relationships, health and ministry suffered as a result. In his work, Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud speaks to this matter of never giving
up, no matter the cost:

“…there is a toxic version of not quitting. It happens when the label of “quitting” in the big sense is equated with stopping a particular goal or endeavour. In other words, if you quit any one thing, you are a quitter instead of being wise…Quitting is just bad, period. Always, anytime, anywhere.

Furthermore, the label gets attached not to the project or the individual case, but the self. “I am a quitter,” is what goes through the person’s head, instead of “I decided to fold on this particular hand. It was stupid to go forward” …some people have maps in their heads that say, “Any giving up is bad.” This belief keeps them from endings that should happen…Sometimes it makes sense to quit a particular project or goal. It does not mean you are a “quitter.”

Cloud’s insightful perspective is wise and genuinely helpful. A decision on whether to keep on with something or to end it requires a healthy portion of perspective, self-awareness, grace and on-going reality checks. I am the wiser when I consider my options carefully and when I bathe all of these personal ‘safety-checks’ in prayer, the counsel of Scripture and the wisdom of godly believers.

As followers of Jesus, we should not easily walk away from our commitment to significant goals, projects, or work. I have determined that although there are elements of the labour that might cause me to think about giving up, I will not quit because the work:

  • is great or long;
  • requires some sacrifice;
  • runs into trouble or has opponents;
  • raises doubts or brings confusion;
  • requires a personal life-change;
  • or needs requires realignment or retooling.

We all have pursued something, at all costs, and discovered it has only reaped heartache and heartbreak. The negative consequences of a “never give up” approach may impact us even today – spiritually, mentally, physically, relationally. I still hold to the view that one should keep on keeping on regarding matters of significance, but my conviction about ‘giving up’ has matured and become less rigid. Today, I test the degree of my pursuit of significant matters – even when it is something I believe God has called me to – by asking several questions:

  • Is it in harmony with God’s purposes, Scripture,
    and the counsel of godly peers?
  • Is the Holy Spirit affirming me to continue?
  • Is it enhancing my Christlikeness?
  • Is it moving me to abide with Jesus?
  • Is it life-giving?
  • Is it causing harm to myself or others?
  • What role is personal pride playing here?

I acknowledge these questions are deeply intertwined, but there is a depth of certainty, a heightened clarity, by engaging them all.

At the end of the day, sticking with something through thick and thin has a long list of commendable character-building outcomes. Resolve, self-control, loyalty, resilience, selflessness and courage are all enhanced by staying the course. However, there is an equal enhancement of personal character when making a necessary ending. May the Holy Spirit guide us all in these matters.

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