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?
Jesus told them, “Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.” I didn’t think I was a worrying person. In fact, I valued my worry-free disposition. As an extroverted, spontaneous, “embrace the moment” person, I was pretty sure that I didn’t worry much. I can vividly recall the exact moments I thought to myself, “I can’t think about that today! I’ll just go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow,” but with much less theatrical Scarlett O’Hara flair. No, I didn’t have a problem with worry.
I saw what worry and anxiety looked like up close and personal when we would drop off groceries to my grandmother’s apartment. My mother’s fear of heights, flying, and her need to keep life inside her comfort zone influenced my counter-familial decision to be a free-spirited. I wasn’t a worrier. I wouldn’t be a worrier.
Worry doesn’t want a little corner in your life. It wants to own all of you. When you don’t give worry the time of day over the small things, it doesn’t mean you’ve won the battle for life. When something we deeply value and love is threatened or challenged, worrying can feel like a comfort. We open our minds and hearts to it because it can feel like we are doing something. This is how worrying hoodwinked me.
Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.
I write this as a humbled woman. I have come to terms that I struggle with worrying about the bigger things in life. I worry about the people I love so dearly; ones I wish I could gather up and rescue and envelop in secure, bullet-proof love. And I must confess, I worry about the “medium stuff”, too. I worry about my kids’ education and preparedness for this crazy world. And I see how I worry about the little things, too. I worry that I’ll fail at teaching my daughter to merge successfully onto a highway (our third to learn to drive, and we cross fingers that this one won’t total a car). I worry about what I'm cooking for dinner. Lord, help me not to worry about tomorrow. Today has enough problems of its own.
Do they like me? Is it good enough? Are my kids getting into trouble? Does my computer have good anti-virus software? Did I spend too much time in the sun as a teenager?
There is a deeper cost to worrying. Often, worrying is the cause for your brain fog and inability to focus or the gnawing, empty stomach feeling of impending doom. When we feel that much of life is spinning out of control, it may be under-the-surface worry. We slip into compulsive behaviors that become habits, become overly critical of ourselves and others, or find it nearly impossible to just slow down and rest. Often, we aren’t consciously and deliberately worrying. We may not even be aware that we are. It’s hard to stop doing something that you won’t admit you are doing. Do we feel guilty or weak when we worry? I wonder.
Jesus says to us, “Refuse to worry.”
When I have my creamy iced coffee in hand, I really don’t want to pair it with broccoli. My taste buds want a bagel, bacon, or a handful of pretzels but NOT spinach salad. The thoughts we give a home to creates a chain reaction, too. One thought often leads to another like-thought. After the first taste of worrying or negative thoughts, it takes a strong action to disrupt the flow. The worry train grows, builds strength. Refusing to worry means I must choose to chase down faith, trust, gratitude, and joy multiple times a day. Our thoughts directly lead to our feelings, which then create the outpouring of our spoken words, our physical state, and our behaviors. Just like my appetite, I will need to make a concerted effort and choice to at some point, stop with “less healthy” thoughts and choose whole-life-thinking. The sooner, the better. We need to bring the worrying thoughts out of the little corner and onto the table and deal with them.
But worries are sneaky little things. Remember how I told you about my alternate reality where I didn’t worry ever? Worry will come, and it will either sneak in or roll in like a thunderclouds. Worry will know which entrance works best on you. In a way, worry is a living, breathing thing. It has an energy all its own, attaching itself to us.
Learn to recognize what worry looks like and sounds like in you. Become comfortable with pulling it up and throwing it on the table and dealing with it.
Talk out your worries. Go for a walk or a run and be the crazy person talking to herself. Talk to your dog or the trees. Talk to Jesus. Do something physically active while working your thoughts from worrying to praise. Write it out in a notebook, journal or create a list. Use my Circle of Influence sheet to reduce your worries and make a simple plan in less than 10 minutes. Whatever you do, however you do it, the worry must go. It is the thief of purpose. It is the robber of joy. It adds absolutely NOTHING to your life. It kills creative problem solving. It ruins relationships. Jesus said, “Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Worrying cannot add a single hour to your life. It cannot add peace of mind. The answer that seems simple, is the answer that works for me. Jesus’ love gives me the courage to refuse my worries. He calms my mind. I’ll go for a drive or a walk and talk to Him until the worries appear smaller and smaller. The ones that won’t get small enough, I ask Him to be patient with me and help me chip away at it each day, handing over tiny particles of anxieties.
So, I worry. It’s true. You do, too. You may not worry as much as others, or you may really struggle with worrying. You may need people beside you, supporting you. You may need to give yourself grace when you are too exhausted to pull out your chisel. You may need to get real with yourself that you have worries. We are all different in that way. Yet, God is constant and faithful. You can trust Him today, wherever you are in your faith. Jesus said to the entire crowd that day, "But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own."
See Matthew 6:19-33, I Peter 5:7, and Isaiah 26:3 for more on worry.