Were you in the Clean Plate Club? Did you power through that horrendous college course instead of dropping? How inspiring are these phrases: never give up; finish what you start; go the distance. We learned the importance of finishing as kids and we teach it to our own kids. Yes, I believe that when one commits to something, it is important to stay in it and at it until the end. But sometimes we can’t see when it’s time to be finished. So, how do we know the difference? Over the past few years, God had been trying to tell me to let this one rather BIG thing go. I was fighting to stay invested, but God was directing the river’s current to take me somewhere new. I was enthusiastic and ready for this new venture. I was taking risks, wading deeper and investing myself whole heartedly. I was all in! Yet, I was also chained to this one thing – this good, helpful, worthwhile thing. Obligation and commitment and good intentions were weighing me down, and I was choking in the water. I was slow to “get” the message that it was time to quit.
One reason we miss the signal it's time to let it go is that intrinsically it seems wrong, especially if the decision will affect people. Inconvenience, discomfort, and disruption aren't usually fun, and people often interpret this as "personal hurt” inflicted by your choice. We keep working well past quitting time. We remain in the wrong place because if we don’t, something will change for someone. We make their comfort our responsibility. Sometimes people will tell us it’s our job to keep their lives constant and orderly. I have heard this from others and believed it myself. This was one of the reasons I couldn’t see that God was encouraging me to let it go.
It’s hard to quit because God calls us to endure. Christians are patient, long suffering, and live sacrificial lives. Here is my second reason I couldn’t quit: I was afraid to trust myself. I questioned if I could accurately know my own motives. What if I was being selfish? What if my exhaustion was from “working from my own strength” and I needed to rely more on God? Perhaps I was being double-minded. Later, I recognized that my exhaustion was from working from my own strength and reaching my own end. God wanted me to come to the end. He wanted me to recognize the crossed finish line.
How do we know if we are quitting too soon? What if it's more like, "ending earlier than expected"? Perhaps it’s a role you agreed to perform in, but there isn’t an end in sight. It may be a ministry you started or a career you’ve pursued. It could be a relationship, too. You may have poured your time, money, and heart into a God-sized vision and wonder if stopping now makes you a quitter or a finisher. I wondered too. I hung on another year. I adapted. I asked a close friend for insight. It was my topic of conversation with my professional coach. I waffled, questioned, felt guilty, and more and more like a failure. I didn’t know how I could know for sure if God was saying, “Let this go.”
I didn’t find my answer easily. Before I remembered that God’s will for me isn’t complicated, rigid or shrouded in mystery, I made a mess of mistakes. I was afraid that I was abandoning my own party. But in reality, I was overstaying my welcome. And I felt like the person enduring that overstaying house guest. I also felt like the house guest who is so very ready to go home. I was impatient. I was irritable. I was growing resentful. I felt stuck. I was checking my watch. I didn’t recognize myself. Five years ago, I had super-human patience, an easy-going and positive spirit, and contentment in serving. I once was invigorated by the work. Why was I so stressed, anxious and exhausted?
Back in the early 2,000’s I ran the Chicago Marathon. The last two miles were tough, but I knew I would reach the finish line. When I did, I slowed down to a walk and exploded with relief and joy and celebrated completing 26.2 miles! I didn’t keep running past the finish line another 46 miles. That would be dangerous as well as crazy.
One way we can determine if we have continued running past the finish line is by paying attention to the health of souls. What does that look like for you? I started asking myself if my impatience, irritation, resentment, and growing sadness came from my own choosing or from somewhere else. I started listening to God’s voice and listened expectantly. He spoke to me through my circumstances and through some deep hurts. He used an encouraging email from someone who affirmed my now current direction. He showed me His truth through a client. He spoke through my loss. I kept seeking him, and he kept speaking to me. I realized that when I was working with God, I had grace to handle much. When I kept working after my quitting time, I was pushing from my own strength, and that strength had run out. I was well past running on fumes. I couldn’t even run on Dunkin. Have you been there?
There were two reasons (that I mentioned) that prevented me from believing I could finish early. I had accepted a job for myself that was impossible to do. I couldn’t shield anyone from challenges, discomfort, or change. And if someone translates discomfort as hurt, that doesn’t mean I harmed them. The same goes for you. You and I can move on, finish early, or even quit. I also had doubted myself and God’s gracious, non-complicated, never-ending love for me. I could never be loved less by God, even when I quit. I could never be loved more by God, even when I run myself ragged. His yoke is easy and He wants to talk with me and show me His ways.
This was a hard-learned lesson over many years, and it would be wonderful to have a quizlet or “five easy steps” to show you how to know when it’s ok to quit. If I had discovered the formula, I could have written a book with an accompanying journal. If our Christian life could be worked through with formulas, we would have little need to spend time talking and listening with God. Sometimes it’s time to keep going, to lean on God’s strength and go the next step one day at a time. I am there now. Maybe you are there, too. Sometimes it’s time to recognize the finish line, lay down the burden, and rest in God’s peace and timing. I am right there now, too. What is God saying to you?
There are some things we know in our head, but they don’t seem to really take root, like these three:
The battle rages inside of us because we also believe that:
Am I right, or am I right? I am right. Let’s go further. There are some truths to my second list. Neither you nor I have arrived, and we do struggle with an imperfect nature that tends to sin. We also have traits that annoy people. We have habits or make choices that hurt ourselves or others. Sometimes… with a careful approach, looking at what others are doing can potentially help us have a more accurate picture of ourselves. Sometimes. Also, there may be some areas you are experiencing failure, and you need to make some changes and improve.
This is the problem with self-improvement, reflection, growth, etc. The process itself can go incredibly wrong. We can veer off into any number of ditches or travel down rabbit trails and wind up anxious, depressed, arrogant, bitter, discontent, narcissistic, or manically restless.
When I was in junior high, I concluded that my personality was 90% wrong. So, I created a list of right and desirable personality traits and strived to replace all the qualities that were wrong in me. A few weeks later, exhausted, discouraged and confused, I succumbed to my old ways: messy locker, forgotten homework, talkative, silly, creative, spontaneous, me. That try wasn’t my only attempt at giving myself a makeover in one way or another. Older, wiser me tended to mix and confuse my weak or sinful areas with my uniqueness. I fell into the ditches. I lost myself on the rabbit trails.
The title of the article is, Five Things I Hated About Me, and it’s time now to share my list. In Junior High, I was determined to become orderly, quiet and reserved, fit in more with the people around me, be less silly and more dignified, and follow the “rules” better. I thought I was a mistake. I thought I knew better than God how I should be wired. I believed others had to approve of me; all my differences were sin. Freedom happens when those head facts transfer to my heart, soul, mind. It’s realizing that having a messy locker is totally fine. I bet Martha had a clean closet. I suspect her sister Mary didn’t. I can learn to be a better listener while praising God for giving me quick words and an enthusiastic spirit. I am free.
Five Things I Hated About Me:
If you struggle with people pleasing or perfectionism, or if you are perplexed how your strengths, weaknesses, and personality can work successfully in your life, let’s talk together about living life D E E P and W I D E. Maybe you want to make your own list of things you once hated about you. They can be things you hated before you read this article! God desires to show you who he created you to be. He promises to continue the work of bringing you along, making you more like Jesus, the continual and ever-ongoing adventure until we see him face to face. I want to challenge and inspire you to live joyfully, freely, and graciously in the process!
Kerri Goodman, ACC, is a life coach and certified behavior consultant who helps women uncover and cultivate their strengths, values, and purpose and move from people pleasers to capable, confident leaders, transforming their personal and professional lives. Contact her at www.kerrigoodman.com