The Virtue of Quitting
Instead of harrumphing about things we don’t want to do, certain family members and I quote the “Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” monologue from Shakespeare’s Henry V. It lends a certain gravitas to our grumbles without our actually grumbling. As you might imagine, my cranky little spirit utters those lines with some frequency.
Though I’m rarely in such dramatic situations as Henry’s troops facing almost certain death, I do wrestle with the temptation of quitting in the face of hardship. Why stay at a job where double standards and unreasonable expectations set the status quo when you could walk away? Why continue investing in one-sided or unfulfilling relationships when you could find someone new? Why stick with that grueling diet and exercise routine when you don’t see the desired results? The path of least resistance is well-trodden.
Absolutely there are circumstances in which quitting is the wisest choice. There is no shame in hightailing out of abusive, dangerous, and toxic situations. But sometimes the decision between sticking it out and giving up isn’t so clear. I’ve always prided myself on stubborn resolution to see difficult things through, but the compounding challenges of last year brought me to a point of wanting to quit everything from residence to career, religion to social circle, hair color to cuisine. After revisiting Jesus’ red-letter teachings, I think there’s a certain virtue to giving up, but it all comes down to giving up the right things.
For instance, when a person in authority sabotaged my work and made it impossible to prove my innocence, my first inclination was to surrender the project. I decided to stay on, but nursed a bitter attitude, complained among collaborators, and held a mean grudge. Naturally this only inflamed the situation. People advised me to quit the job but, after meditating on the list of Jesus’ commandments, I eventually realized I didn’t have to quit the job in order to quit the negativity. When we find ourselves wanting to bail out, what we usually want to get out from is the unpleasantness of a circumstance, not necessarily the circumstance itself. Ephesians 4:22-32 tells us we:
. . . must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
As soon as I decided to quit grumbling, harboring malice, and withholding mercy, I began enjoying the work again. All the energy wasted on these practices Paul warns us to put off, I could invest into spreading compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love (Colossians 3:12-14). As a result, the culture of the workplace shifted and became more supportive and productive. The entire team benefited.
It wasn’t about persevering through trials for pride’s sake or some misguided sense of obligation. It was about seeking God’s good intention for what I saw as misfortune. If we deserted every opportunity for growth in adversity, what good would our faith be? How would we develop patience or any other virtue equipping us for those situations in which escape or avoidance is impossible? The key is learning what to quit and what to use to our spiritual advantage.
So, my friends, once more unto the breach of bad attitude. May we now set the teeth and stretch the nostrils wide, hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit to his full height, resolving to seek wisdom in the face of hardships and choose to quit only those things that bar us from experiencing God’s grace. May we quit apathy. Quit complaining. Quit passing blame. Instead, may we follow the Spirit, and upon his charge cry, ‘God for peace, hope, and love!’