We as a people seem to have a deeply engrained belief in the nobility of perseverance. Winston Churchill’s famous words “Never, never, never give up” have been canonized in the minds of many. Yet giving up something good for something better is what life is all about. The book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, by Laurence Gonzales includes that thought-provoking quote, “A secret to resilience is quitting.” The author explains, “It’s a matter of looking at yourself and assessing your own abilities and where you are mentally, and then realizing that it’s better to turn back and get a chance to do it again than to go for it and not come back at all. We are a society of high achievers, but in the wilderness, such motivation can be deadly.” Such motivation can be deadly spiritually as well. The thesis of this article is that appropriate quitting is vital to our spiritual survival. Let’s start with the principle of repentance.
Repentance Includes Quitting!
Quitting is a vital part of repentance. To repent means that I quit either an unworthy behavior, an unworthy thought pattern, or that I quit procrastinating doing some worthy thing and start doing it! Repentance by its very definition is giving up an unworthy desire or goal for a better one. So many times our motivation for “hanging in there” is prideful, stubborn, even willful. The progress we most need is often found only by letting go, giving up, surrendering to the will of the Lord and accepting His guidance in a new direction.
The importance of this repentance process can scarcely be overstated. The scriptures tell us we are baptized “unto repentance”-not unto forgiveness, which is so much more often connected with the idea of baptism. (See Mosiah 26:22, Alma 6:2, 7:14, 9:27, 48:19; Helaman 3:24, 5:17, 19; 3 Nephi 7:26; D&C 55:2) “I . . . baptize you with water unto repentance, John the Baptist declared (Matthew 3:11). Not unto forgiveness, but unto repentance. Why? Because baptism is a personal declaration of our acceptance of the Lord’s gift of repentance, which we covenant to implement on a daily basis for our whole lives.
Baptism is not just about receiving forgiveness of the sins we may have committed up to that point. We renew our covenant of “baptism unto repentance” each week as we partake of the sacrament. It means we accept the Atonement in our behalf and believe that when we quit doing what’s wrong and start doing what’s right every day of our lives, the Lord’s mercy will cover us and we will be forgiven. See how important “quitting” is in that whole equation?
Practical Applications of the Virtue of Quitting
When I was a freshman in college, one of the required essays in English class was called “The Quitter As Hero.” It made a huge impression on my mind because it was so different from all the “perseverance” advice I’d read. And the logic was impeccable. We simply have to quit many things as we proceed through life in order to progress. Nothing can impede our progress more surely than hanging on when hanging on is hurting us or others, or when our motivation for continuing is not reasonable.
In my thirties I finally realized that I would have to quit sewing, canning, baking, and crafts in order to have time to write. The Lord was telling me to write, and the only way to fit it into my busy life of raising children was to quit other things. (It was no sacrifice since my only motivation for doing them had been a sense that Mormon women “should” do those things. I wasn’t good at any of them, and didn’t enjoy doing them. The same could be said of cooking, and I would have quit that too except that my family and I have this mysterious love of eating!)
No one can do it all or be good at everything. I remember Janeen Brady, an amazing composer, telling us a funny story about her response to a goal-setting program called “Pursuit of Excellence” they had in Relief Society years ago. Janeen said she had a house full of children and that her goals to be an excellent mother and excellent composer left no time to set goals to be excellent at anything else! Janeen had quit expecting the impossible. She was smart enough to realize that she was never going to be able to write cookbooks or teach dancing, but could (by focusing her time and energy) be an ever-great composer and mother. Most people can do amazing things when they focus on their “life mission” tasks and quit trying to do everything and please everybody. And you know what results this type of quitting has? It makes people happier, reduces stress.
It is wise to practice the fine art of quitting because it is totally unrealistic and unreasonable to think we can stick with everything we try or with every goal we attempt to reach. Many things we try, we find out quickly we are NOT suited for, and in order to have time for things more satisfying we have to quit. Some people quit music lessons after two lessons, some after two years of lessons. My son quit after four years of lessons and never touched the piano again. Come to find out, playing the piano was my goal for him, not his own!
The goals we hang onto and the goals we give up on should depend not only on our own desires, but on putting God first. In the April 1988 General Conference, President Benson said, “When we put God first, all other things fall into their place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.” We often have to quit something (let it drop out of our lives) in order to pursue a more God-guided goal.
Quitting one thing so we have the time to move ahead in a different direction can be vital. In fact, sometimes the wisest best thing we can do is give up on a project, or even on certain relationship goals . . . for instance when our desires are not lining up with the Lord’s purposes for us, when we are hanging on only because of a desire to look good, or a stubborn determination that is not born of the Spirit but of willfulness.
Quitting Impossible Relationship Goals
Sometimes, quitting involves leaving. Abraham quit his early life and removed himself from abuse and threat of death by leaving. Lehi had to give up on his desire to motivate the people to repent. He had to quit preaching to them and remove himself from the wickedness of the society in which he lived and from the threats on his life by leaving. It was the Lord’s will that his family be spared and quitting was the only way that could be achieved.
Nephi later found himself in much the same position. He had to quit ministering and attempting to get his brothers to repent.
The Lord told him to remove himself (and all those who would go with him) from abuse and threat of death by leaving.
In modern circumstances, although it is always a last resort, at times faithful church members have found it necessary to quit trying to make a marriage work and remove themselves from abuse and even threats on their life by leaving. They give up the hope that things would get better and follow the Spirit in order to stay emotionally, spiritually, or physically safe.
Other Examples in Every-day Life
Many of us are at times coercive slave-drivers to ourselves, unwilling to listen to clear messages from our bodies. Because we don’t know when to quit we reap the consequences of severe health problems. A friend of mine was determined not to quit until she finished painting with primer. In spite of flu-like symptoms and a severe headache she was determined to finish the job. Her refusal to quit landed her in the hospital with lungs that are now damaged. A persevering, hard-working father and church worker died of a heart-attack mowing his lawn, even though his wife had noticed that he was exhausted and in pain and begged him to quit. He was determined to finish that lawn!
Those of us who are now seniors need to recognize the necessity of passing on the baton to the younger generation and quit thinking we can continue to do it all and at full speed. It is a hard thing to let go and face the realities that come with aging, and some people have a sense of shame instead of acceptance in regard to limitations. We need to quit denying reality and simply focus on the good things we can still do.
A relative of mine is at that stage of life. His wife was so relieved when he told her he would quit planting a garden. The planting, weeding, and harvesting has become far too much for both of them in their advanced years. Being willing to quit one thing often opens up the way to do more of something even better. In this case this couple plans to do more family history–much more realistic than gardening at their age. They are also in the process of getting rid of possessions in preparation to move to a much smaller home. They both are learning to quit expecting more of themselves than their aging bodies can possibly do.
Of course, we have to be very cautious and prayerful in any decision that involves quitting. Check out the list below and think about what you personally might add to it.
Some Things We Need to Quit
Quit procrastinating the good that is reasonable and possible to do.
Quit having unrealistic expectations of others.
Quit expecting the worst.
Quilt thinking the world should be the way we want it.
Quit looking to the arm of flesh instead of the Lord for answers.
Quit trying to be perfect NOW and start being mindful of every step we can take that will move us in that direction.
Quit trying to do more than the Lord expects, which can lead to burnout and exhaustion.
Quit second-guessing the Lord and start checking in more often with the Spirit.
Quit connecting worth with accomplishment and remember that: “The worth of souls is great in the sight of the Lord.” Period.
Things We Should Never Quit
No matter our circumstances, we should never quit reading the scriptures and praying.
We should never quit believing in all the Lord’s promises, especially that all things work together for good and that the Lord is on our side. We should never quit doing our best with the strength that we have in serving the Lord.
The right kind of quitting really can be heroic. We can be spiritually resilient and endure to the end by quitting in the right way. I’m talking about the kind of quitting I’ve seen in people who have graciously let go of all expectation of outward accomplishment as they near the end of their lives. I’m talking about the kind of quitting that helps us repent, move forward, and align ourselves more closely with the Lord’s will . . . the kind of quitting that helps us survive spiritually and physically so we can continue to serve in one way or another. . . the kind of quitting that strips us of pride and envy and keeps us firmly on the Lord’s side. Though it can sound like an oxymoron, I stick with my thesis that it is possible for a quitter to be a hero!
Author note: Do you know someone whose life has been impacted by the suicide of a loved one? The common pattern is to avoid the subject and avoid processing the grief, but there is a better way. Help them find “the peace that surpasses understanding” by pointing them to one of the following: If they are LDS, direct them to After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Faith to Go On. If they are not LDS, direct them to: Finding Hope while Grieving Suicide: Opening Your Heart to the Healing Only God Can Give. For more information go to my website: <darlaisackson.com>.