“Winners never quit, and quitters never win” and other lies

The phrase your dad or your coach told you when you were seven and standing on the side of the swimming pool on that 65-degree June morning during the first week of summer swim practice still plays in your head, doesn’t it?

Winners never quit, and quitters never win.

We create life pathologies from the lessons we learned before we were old enough to understand what the word discernment meant.

This email may be only for a few — you might just tuck it away for when you’re considering leaving a job or a friendship or a church or a neighborhood.

But I suspect I’m not the only one staring out my kitchen sink window with soap suds up to my elbows and wondering if it’s more than just my “quitter’s” heart making me think I need to lay something down. (I keep responding to myself like I’m that seven-year-old needing a quitters-never-win pep-talk).

Taking a break from pursuing that one relationship that feels one-sided … letting your child quit the sport you’ve invested years in helping them win … moving away from a volunteer role that was wildly fulfilling (until it wasn’t anymore) … ending a long-held family tradition — these still elicit the same feelings.

I felt the same about leaving a city as I did about leaving a bi-weekly Bible study.

No quitting feels like winning.

I remember the year we left the ministry that I, months earlier, announced to a ballroom full of potential donors I’d be a part of it for the “rest of my life.” We lived on the sixty acres a friend owned — renting their home-adjacent cottage — and I walked the property, confused and coaching myself. I crossed a small stream that was rapid from the recent rain and, in a flash, sensed that my own waters needed new, fresh surges. It felt treasonous to consider leaving the only ministry I’d ever known — something I was sure I’d never do. But His nudge inside of me invited me to … gulp … quit.

And I walked the figurative road of shame (that was mostly in my mind), facing the ones who had once seemingly revered me for staying on a hard, ill-cleared, and potholed road. I imagined the conversations I might have with those who couldn’t see me apart from my involvement in this ministry — and the conversations they’d have, behind my back, about my commitment to God and to the most essential things in life. My shoulders slumped for months in response to the hypothetical opposition that was mostly in my head.

Because I quit.

Read that word aloud and consider all that comes to mind as you say it. Sure, I gave long notice and I prepared those who would be going after me, but I still couldn’t shake that I was a quitter.*

But is there never a time to say uncle? For many earnest believers, ascribing to our unnamed but deeply fortified pathology, no, there is never a good time to say uncle.

What about a God who said uncle, Himself, in that dark Friday night? Is there room for a death in the life of believers who still want to live in hope and life?

Our one-dimensional hope leaves us presuming that to live in and out of it, it has to be linear. Shouldn’t it be that we conceive of a dream or an ideal, walk out that ideal (against all odds and challenges), and then see the fruition of our labor … the fruition of our hope?

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

But could the perseverance and endurance Paul talks about be less related to persevering (pushing) through an external circumstance and more related to what happens in the heart? Some of the most significant moments of suffering in my life have been tied to letting dreams go and enduring with God as they die.

You see (if we’re honest), many of us are working harder than we want to acknowledge to try and keep a dream afloat. We’re unable to sleep and living under headaches and body aches (the whispers of a body made by God that He uses to speak to us) and thinking God is leading us to hang on for dear life when maybe, just maybe, He might be saying … it’s time to let go.

I’ve had about four iterations of large-scale “uncles” and many smaller ones, when I hit the fence line at the edge of my property and, instead of mustering all my energy, day after day, to hurdle it (to pursue the dream) as I’d done since I was young, I decided instead to fall down at the post. To land in my yard. To find God right there. Me: a quitter, God: the one who resurrects things, His way.

None of us likes it when dreams die and hopes throttle. Not one of us imagines there could be any sort of joy in walking away from something to which we’ve given the whole of ourselves.

But is there a gift in coming to the end-limit of us … with eyes open, considering that it might be the start of a new story He is writing?