Knowing When to Quit

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I am an adamant, self-professing non-quitter. Up until a few years ago (four, to be exact), quitting was not an option under any circumstances. I have been known to show up to church/Bible School class/my brother’s graduation in Fresno all while having pneumonia. I attended Algebra classes at the local community college with my high school daughter while being so pregnant I had to sit sideways in the dest just to fit. I took my last final exam in Bible School about a week before giving birth to my youngest daughter. I used to specialize in spinning as many plates as possible with the fierce determination to drop none.

It may sound like boasting to you, but it is actually a confession of great weakness. Most of that sprang from my own, stubborn-hearted willfulness and the desire to prove to the world and myself that there was nothing I couldn’t handle. Eventually, all of those plates came crashing down, and so did I. I am not proud of this, but eternally grateful that God chose to interrupt my self-destructive train.

The determination to never give up began innocently enough for me.  I was a Girl Scout, and my troop was participating in the Girl Scout Olympics. I was running some kind of a dash (I can’t remember how many meters it was), and my parents and Grandparents were in the stands that day. This was a big occasion for me, because our family was very dysfunctional and often absent. I was determined to make them proud.

As soon as the gunshot sounded, the runners took off, including me. My race had hardly begun, though, when my foot slipped and I tumbled to the ground and found myself sprawled out on the track with bloody knees and soiled pants. But my parents and Grandparents were still there, watching me and believing in me.

Though I was deeply humiliated, badly injured, and without any hope for a chance at winning the race, something in me rose up and I decided to run on anyway. With the crowd cheering like mad, I dragged myself back to my feet, wiped my snot and my tears, and finished the race, in last place.

My Grandfather, who was my hero at the time, raced down to the field and told me how proud he was of me. He was so proud, in fact, that he took me out for my very first hot fudge Sunday that day. To a little girl starving for validation, that was a hook for my soul. I determined then and there that I would never be a quitter.

Sometimes things begin so beautifully, with all the right intentions, but then spin wildly out of control. That’s what happened with my vow to never give up. It became a principle I lived – and nearly died by. It reminds me of what happens when we give our hearts to Jesus and learn about His commandments, then become fixated on keeping them. I’ve seen many people become slaves to what was intended to bring them freedom, simply because they employed all their energy in trying hard to do what’s right instead of focusing their hearts on relationship with Jesus, the One Who helps us to live right.

Jesus saved me from killing myself with the vow to never give up on anything, thankfully. In that process, I learned that determination to stay the course is good, when it’s the course prescribed by Him. This is why I’m such a proponent of re-evaluating priorities with every new season. When we do, we can set aside (or give up) the things that God is not asking us to focus on for a while, and make room for the things He is calling our time and energy and attention to.

Which brings me to the real point of this blog: how do we know when it’s time to quit?

The simple answer is to ask God. He’s really good at this process! And He knows what every one of our seasons is about, because He designed them all.

The less simple, and messier answer is to try and figure it out on our own. This usually comes with consequences that affect not only our lives, but others’ lives too. Yet, it’s often the route we tend to take. Humanity loves to lean first into our own understanding. For many, it’s so deeply embedded into our ways that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. But there is hope, which is why I’m writing to remind you that it’s never too late to turn to God and ask Him for wisdom. The book of James reminds us that God will always answer that prayer when it is prayed in faith.

Recently, I’ve been taken aback by the increased level of demand on not only my life, but many others around me. It seems the people I am in community with, and those I share life with, are all in a time and space where life is moving so fast, and requiring so much from us, that we can hardly see straight. We share the sense that, before we can even process through one demand on our time, energy and resources, another demand is knocking at the door. The crazy part is that the demands are not the kind we can really say no to.

I’m all for limits, now that I’ve been humbled and taught to commit myself to what God directs me to instead of piling up all my self-directed endeavors. I think it’s healthy to recognize that we can’t do it all, and as much as I hate saying no to people and things, I know we have to sometimes.

But this does not seem to me to be one of those times. The demands we are encountering require our commitment. They are things like taking care of our aging and ill family members. Picking up the pieces of a job abandoned by someone else we were working with. Supporting our families while one parent or the other has received an increased work load which is unavoidable. Confronting issues which leave a trail of messy relational trouble, but which cannot afford to be ignored. Crisis and trauma in families which we cannot turn away from.

It all seems relentless, and has surfaced a question in my heart: is this an attack of chaos from the enemy, or is it appointed by God for a purpose?

Because if it’s an attack, our first response is usually spinout. While reeling from the onslaught, we take one good look at the craziness and determine that we must step back and put some things down, in order to get ourselves reoriented. We quit things, in order to take on new things, in an attempt to focus on what we think we should – which is often temporary in nature. In the right season, and when sifted through God’s wisdom, this is a good thing. But out of season, and in a knee-jerk response to feeling overwhelmed, we put down things God has called us to, as a means of surviving. We get derailed and distracted by the enemy’s chaos and, fearing that we won’t have enough strength to stand through it, we try to prevent burnout by quitting the original course we were called to.

And, bam…the enemy has won. And he has done so deceitfully, because he has managed to convince us that this was most certainly the right course of action. You may not burn out, but you have dropped out.

By contrast, if all the “extra” is appointed by God for a purpose, the reeling and staggering will give way to a new, determined stand. If, through all that is touching our lives – no matter how impossible it is – God intends to strengthen and build us up, then it will not be a time to quit, but a time to endure. Endurance is not a word we tend to like, because it is usually synonymous with painful suffering and hard circumstances. Nevertheless, just as surely as there is a time to quit, there is a time to stand and endure.

In some seasons, when God has called us to stay a particular course, that course will be tested with anything and everything we could possibly imagine. Through much prayer and staggering, those in my close-knit community and I have come to understand that this is such a season. God has promised much, which the enemy is eager to turn us back from. The detours are justifiable. It would be understandable for me to set something down in order to assume my Grandmother’s care and my childrens’ new season of intensified schooling, and my fresh need for healing. No one would blame me for that. For some, even staying home on a Sunday to rest and retreat from it all, rather than gather with the body of believers for strength and encouragement, would be completely understandable.

But my heart is convinced by the Spirit of God that this is not such an hour. This, Dear Woman of Breakthrough, is an hour where God is building up our spiritual muscle. In times where we feel overwhelmed by life, this is a season of taking a deep breath in Him, and then picking up the next piece of the assignment in front of us, and carrying on, trusting and believing that He will not only give us the strength, but will also increase the fruit of our lives and the purity of our faith for the season ahead.

How I pray that we will learn to press into God’s presence and listen for His voice before responding to whirlwinds of change by retreating into hiding, and quitting the things we are destined to finish well.

There is a time to rest, and there is a time to learn to work from rest. We are in the latter days. We have such a great need of being able to endure, and our faithful Father is preparing us for just that, if we will agree to stand and trust Him for the strength to not give up.

May the fruit of our God-directed determination in this season bring much glory to Jesus, and much joy to us and our communities!

 


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