A Spirituality of Quitting

A Spirituality of Quitting

I’m a great quitter. It’s one of the few things I do well. I come form a long line of quitters. My father was a quitter, my grandfather was a quitter… I was raised to give up. 

— George Costanza | Seinfeld, Season 4, Episode: The Old Man

Eric and I interviewed at the same time for the PhD program at Southern Seminary. Same interviewing team, same concentration, same result—accepted. Eric and I also were both granted the same gift of being supervised by Dr. Donald S. Whitney, author of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian LifePraying The Bible, and many more. Eric and I attended the same intro seminars with the great Dr. Jonathan Pennington. We were both pinching ourselves, amazed that we made it into the program.

During the middle of the first semester, I texted Eric about our upcoming seminar covering the first eight centuries of Christian spirituality, and I learned Eric had quit the program. I was surprised. Our texts basically went like this:

  • Eric: “Hey, Jeff! Man, I forgot to tell you, but I decided to drop out of the program. It was a tough decision but I needed to do it.”
  • Me: “Man, that’s tough. Everything ok?”

Eric quit the Phd program and I couldn’t be more impressed.

To Quit is to be Human

Unlike George Costanza, most of us are very uncomfortable with quitting. We hear a lot about going after your dreams, achieving big things, and unleashing the untapped talents within—and this is the kind language that comes from some pulpits. But even if you aren’t in a church that harps on catalyzing your calling, you know the word “quit” feels like one of those infamous four letter words. We don’t like it. We don’t like to say it. And we definitely don’t devote time to thinking about quitting.

We think a quitter is someone who doesn’t measure up, someone who lacks what it takes, and somebody who is a plain ol’ weakling. Are these categories truly all that undesirable? Aren’t these hallmark characteristics of those who sit at the banqueting table in the Kingdom of God? 

Aren’t we Christians the ones who believe we don’t measure up, that we lack what it takes, and that we are incredibly weak? We know this is true of us in terms of justification, and we shouldn’t be surprised that it rings true in sanctification, in our daily lives as disciples of Christ. There is only one person who always surpasses expectations and who has no lack in competency or calendar. 

It’s no failure to admit we are not the triune God. Quitting is human. The Sabbath design from God is a blessing. He wants us to see our weakness. God wants us to realize our inability to do it all, be it all, get it all—so we will find our rest and renewal in him.

When Dreams Meet Discipleship

Quitting doesn’t mean you are a loser. Quitting might mean you are trying not to lose something bigger, better, and biblical. Like Eric, who quit for all the right reasons.

Eric told me why he decided to quit the program.

  • Eric: “Yeah, after talking with my wife and my fellow pastors, I knew I would have to quit. It’s a long story, but my wife and I decided to take in my niece and nephew. They are living with us now. And with our newborn baby, and some heavy pastoral needs at the church, I knew I couldn’t do the PhD anymore.”
  • Me: “Bro, that’s amazing. For what it’s worth, I think you made the right call. I hope you aren’t discouraged.”
  • Eric: “Thanks, man. It was tough. I’m a little bummed because it was a dream, but I know this was the right thing to do.”
  • Me: “I think you should be so encouraged. One, You got accepted—everyone doesn’t get that honor. The school thinks you can do it. This isn’t a question of your intelligence or chops. But like Peter, who quit fishing to follow Jesus, sometimes our discipleship with Christ calls us to quit something good. And, bro, you quit a good thing to do and incredible, godly, Christlike thing.”

My respect and admiration of Eric skyrocketed. Our conversation is the genesis of this piece and my thinking about quitting. Quitting is unavoidable. Quitting is a necessary action throughout our lives. Rather than ignoring the idea of quitting, Christianity spirituality recognizes that quitting is essential to our discipleship with Christ. As disciples of Christ, we need to consider an angle of quitting that might be the godliest thing we can do. 

Think about the various times in the Bible that quitting, changing plans or giving something up, was required to faithfully walk with God. 

  • Moses quit living in Pharaoh’s house, quit caring for sheep, and quit trying to handle every Israelite’s problem (Heb 11:26–27; Ex 18). 
  • Peter, James, and John all quit fishing for a living.
  • John the Baptist knew it was time to start sun-setting his ministry (John 3:30).
  • The man with a legion of demons had to stay home rather than join Jesus’s traveling ministry (Mark 5:18–20). 
  • The rich young ruler refused quit on his wealth and self-righteousness (Luke 18:18–30).
  • Paul had to quit on his idea of going to preach in Asia (Acts 16:6–10).

There will be many times throughout our walk with Christ that for the betterment of our spirituality, we will have to quit. It could be a job, a ministry, a dream, or a place you’ve always wanted to live. Discipleship with Jesus is ultimate decision maker. 

If your spirituality, your passion and pursuit of Jesus, is served by changing directions—“lay aside the weights that so easily entangle you” (Heb 12:1). There will be seasons of change that must be embraced, or the idol of self will propel you into disobedience. But if quitting, changing gears, or moving ministries would hinder your faithfulness, you ought to endure, remain faithful, keep going. A spirituality of quitting isn’t a green light for doing whatever we want. Suffering isn’t a surefire sign that it’s time to quit either. The reasons for quitting must be clear, discipleship driven, and even laid before others for counsel. This is not about feeling free to chase a dream. We are talking about feeling free to carry a cross, die to self, and walk with Christ.

Quitting and Caution 

Caveats and cautions do need to be made. 

First, I’m not addressing quitting anything that you are conscience or biblically bound to. I fear people would take my thoughts and haphazardly justify their sin. 

In terms of conscience, there are many situations, people, and places that you may feel would be wrong to leave. Example: You know your local church is unhealthy or toxic, but you want to stay and help. Great. That’s between you and the Lord. And if another member of that same church wants to leave for a healthy church, they are free. Martin Luther has a word for all of us about listening to the conscience.

Second, a proper view of quitting doesn’t minimize the importance of counting the cost (Luke 14:25–33). Responsibility matters. And it could be that counting the cost reveals something has to be renounced to faithfully walk with Jesus (Luke 14:33). 

Third, we should still, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov 6:6). An awareness of the spiritual benefits that may come from quitting doesn’t mean laziness, rashness, or poor planning are a-okay (Prov 21:5). 

But it should also be known that there will be times in your life with Christ that you will quit a path you started–and you will be better for it (Prov 16:9). I’ve been there. You will be there. And you will be more than okay on the other side. Christ has prepared good works for you to walk in, and you will walk in them (Eph 2:10). Your steps are established, led, and upheld by God. Breathe. Relax. Decide and trust him (Ps 37:23–24).

Quitting might be the courageous and cruciform thing to do.

  1. I recently had to make a decision to quit something and this is the verse that encouraged me – John 15:2 – “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

    Sometimes I feel like it isn’t so much quitting, but pruning, like a spent blossom, we’ve produced the fruit we are going to produce in that situation and it is time to prune that blossom to bear more fruit in some other situation or ministry.

  2. Great post. Thank you. I was “Eric” a few years ago. I had desired to attend seminary for over a decade when I enrolled in Midwestern’s online program. After finishing a third of the program and loving it, we learned that my wife was pregnant (a shock to all- after 16 years of marriage and a son through adoption). I did not sense a call to vocational ministry and knew that my calling and responsibilities as a husband and dad took priority over my seminary dreams. I quit the program at MBTS.

    I initially wondered why the Lord would lead me into seminary, only to have me quit a few semesters later. It was a great lesson in obedience and following Him, but also to show me that I am not called to vocational ministry- something that I had also considered for many years. I appreciate your referencing Proverbs 16:9 in the post, for it has been a “life verse” of mine for many years.

    Thanks again for your post.

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