Please welcome today’s guest writer, Pete Ford. Pete has built websites, planned writers conferences, and edited book manuscripts. While at Calvin, he was on the Chimes staff and was a student fellow at the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. After graduating with a degree in literature, he joined Credo Communications in Grand Rapids as a literary agent and publishing coordinator.
While it’s dangerous to refer to “our culture” as a monolith, I feel comfortable asserting that our culture has an unhealthy obsession with the idea of perseverance. We are told to “just do it,” to “follow our hearts,” and to “never give up.”
But, what if giving up is exactly what we are called to do?
We glorify the success story that almost came to the point of giving up just before the publisher accepted the proposal or the investor helped the business launch successfully. If a business or an annual conference announces an ending, we assume the worst.
Personally, I have taken pride in keeping the same major through college, and I felt that I had to defend my decision to drop my minor with only one class to go.
Even within the church, it’s easy to feel shame for not “persevering.” When we find our identity in our commitments, giving up feels like a lack of integrity. In her book Free to Lean, Jocelyn Green invites us to stop believing that we must be involved in every church ministry to feel like we’re good enough Christians. The recent focus on self-health has reminded us to encourage our volunteers who need to step back from commitments. We could also include in this conversation the discernment to quit toxic relationships and build margin into our schedules.
As believers, we ought to lead the charge against this idolatry of perseverance. God has gifted us with the ability to quit. In fact, our salvation hinges on “quitting”: it has nothing to do with us and everything to do with the gracious action of God. While Scripture advocates for perseverance and hope, that is never a blanket command. For instance, Nehemiah perseveres in building a wall (as God commanded him). Jude calls believers to keep the faith. Paul calls us to persevere in specific actions, such as spiritual growth and hope in God’s promises (His action, not our own achievement).
Let’s examine together what I call “a theology of quitting.” We find numerous theological concepts of quitting in Scripture, such as surrender, repentance, fasting, and Sabbath rest. Repentance is a 180-degree turning from sin. This entails not just quitting a sinful action, but repenting of the belief that we can do life on our own.
This theology of quitting is really a theology of realignment—in Scripture, repentance is often paired with faith. There is extreme humility in admitting our fault and stopping our descent in that direction. One of my professors referred to erasers as “humility devices”—the quicker we are willing to stop learning things the wrong way, the sooner we can learn the right way.
In addition to quitting sinful things, there are reasons to quit things that are perfectly fine, since the good things get in the way of the best. The spiritual traditions of fasting and monasticism are examples of giving up something that’s not inherently evil to focus on something else. Fasting keeps us in the practice of being willing to quit.
From the very beginning, God gifted humans with the example and command to rest from our work on the seventh day. The Old Testament law outlines similar practices for giving fields rest every seven years. This Sabbath rest reminds us that we cannot be successful on our own—we depend on God. In church history, there is a tradition of evening prayers (complines) which are often framed around confessing the sins of the past day and committing ourselves to God’s care for the night. These complines refocus our trust in God’s work, not our own efforts.
Over the past few years, I have been learning my own limitations, that I have to say no to many good opportunities to be able to say a better yes to other opportunities. As a freelancer, I routinely juggle projects, and I have found freedom in quitting jobs that are not a good fit rather than trying to prove something to myself or the client. Building more margin into my schedule is not only good for my anxiety but also allows me to focus more deeply on the projects that I do choose to work on. We often think of the negative opportunity cost, but what about the positive opportunity gain?
However, we don’t take quitting lightly. We mourn the loss, we hope for the gain, we lament the change and transition. Whether a workday, a business, or a friendship, nothing lasts forever. When we enter the spiritual practice of quitting, we mourn the impermanence of this broken world and look forward to a recreated world where we will finally understand the meaning of “eternal.”