The first time I quit, I felt guilty. I’m not the sort of person who gives up easily. So, when as a 19-year-old I decided to quit attending a particular church, I felt like I was betraying my friends and my faith. The situation had become toxic and emotionally abusive; the pastor was taking advantage of the sincerity and devotion of the parishioners. I couldn’t take it anymore. It was destroying my faith.
It sounds like a simple decision. But it really wasn’t. It felt like I was betraying my principles, like I was the one being unreasonable. I felt guilty and wondered if I’d become too cynical. Many of my friends were perfectly fine remaining in that church, so maybe, I thought, the problem was me. Everyone tried to talk me out of it. They said that the church would only get better if I stuck around and became part of the solution, that there were no other perfect religious communities out there, that I would regret leaving.
When we invest so much in something like a church community, a personal relationship, or a job, we tend to become biased toward its success. We don’t want our effort to amount to nothing, to feel like we’re giving up on something that has flaws but also has genuinely good aspects to it.
Learning to be a quitter
This is why quitting is so hard. Not only are we giving up on something that, at one point, was a genuine source of good, but we’re also admitting that our best efforts are powerless to fix it. Quitting is an acknowledgment of human boundaries and limitations.
Since that momentous decision, I’ve become an accomplished quitter …
I quit being Protestant and became Catholic.
I quit a job that was miserable because of a demanding boss.
I quit worrying about the cost of raising children and decided to create the biggest family I could with my wife.
I quit trying to keep up with fashion trends and gracefully transitioned into a middle-aged dad (my children might dispute this).
I quit worrying what other people thought about me.
What others say they’ve given up on
I asked my friends on social media to share their stories about quitting and received more responses than I have space to share here. It seems that a lot of people have thought about this topic! Here’s a sampling of what my friends shared:
Aleteia contributor Sarah Robsdottir said, “I quit hosting guests only IF I had a clean house — it was a real breakthrough. I realized the silly standard I had put on myself to be a fake Martha Stewart was cutting into my Chrisitan charity.”
Jim said, “I left a career that I traveled extensively, got paid very well in and had a lot of perks with a Fortune 500 company for one that I could focus on helping others, my faith, family and community in coming to work with the Knights of Columbus as a Field Agent.”
Anna said, “I quit living for me and started living for God.”
Denise said, “I quit saying I’m too old to do things.”
Terri said, “I quit comparing myself to other moms. I quit holding myself to impossible expectations.”
And Jeff makes the point succinctly that quitting has its advantages; “One word, Father: Smoking.”
It takes courage
Every response I received had a common theme, which is that quitting takes courage. None of these quitters, in sharing their story, is promoting the idea of giving up on yourself or your dreams. And I’m not trying to say that quitting is something we should all be doing all the time, quickly and easily.
Rather, what I hear my friends sharing is that, over time as they have thought and prayed about their particular situations it became apparent that a change needed to be made. They only quit when it became obvious that it was time for a fresh start. In making a change, they were seeking new and better opportunities. Quit a bad job for a fulfilling one. Quit a job to focus on parenting. Quit a bad habit to focus on developing a good one. Quit being trapped by the expectations of others.
So the virtue I’m praising isn’t really to become a quitter — it’s the courage to know when to start over and the prudence to focus on where your energy is best expended.
Align your commitments with your values and don’t apologize for spending your energy carefully. If you’re afraid to quit one thing, you may miss an opportunity elsewhere. Be sure that your commitments aren’t only taking energy from you but are also energizing you in return. This is how we know we’re in the right place. For instance, even though offering a Mass every single day is a huge commitment for a priest that takes dedication and preparation, I wake up each morning energized by the fact that I get to offer another one.
I never would have known the fulfillment of the Catholic priesthood today if I hadn’t quit that other church over 20 years ago. We never know what God has in store for us. If I’ve learned anything at all in my short time here on this earth, it’s that He is the one constant. He never quits on us and we should never quit on Him. Everything else we hold lightly and easily so we can seek true happiness, grasping that which is of infinite value.