The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, was known for telling preachers DON’T QUIT! Hyles even wrote a poem on the subject:
When the cup is turned to wormwood,
And the wormwood turns to gall;
When your walking turns to stumbling,
And the stumbling to a fall;
When you’ve climbed above the mountains,
Yet the Alps rise rough and tall;
When the path ahead is crooked,
And the road’s too rough to tread;
When the best upon the table
Is replaced by sorrow’s bread;
When you’ve crossed some troubled waters,
Yet a Marah’s just ahead; (Exodus 15;16)
When the vultures have descended
And disturbed your downy nest;
When sweet fruit has changed to thistle,
While the thorns disturb your rest;
When a deep to deep is calling,
And when failure seems your best;
When the Lord has cleansed the table;
Then He takes away the fat;
And the best wine has been taken,
Till you find an empty vat;
When another fills the throne room
Where once you proudly sat;
When your health is feeling sickly,
And the medicine tastes bad;
When your fellowship is lonely,
And your happiness is sad;
When your warmth is getting colder,
And in clouds your sunshine’s clad;
When you find your wins are losses,
And that all your gains are lacks;
When ill things never come alone,
And your troubles run in packs;
When your soul is bruised and battered
From the Tempter’s fierce attacks;
Be not weary in well doing,
For due seasons bring the grain;
He who on the Lord hath waited
Shall never run in vain;
The just man falleth seven times,
Yet riseth up again;
I heard Jack Hyles many times implore preachers to never, ever quit. Dr. Tom Malone, chancellor of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college I attended in the 1970s, Midwestern Baptist College, frequently reminded students that God never blesses quitters. Students who dropped out of school were excoriated and labeled quitters — men who would never, ever be blessed by God. When my wife and I left Midwestern before graduating, a friend of ours told us, “You will never amount to anything for God. God doesn’t use quitters.” Polly and I went on to spend twenty-five years in the ministry. Our friend? He graduated but never spent one day in the ministry.
Certainly having a bulldog never-quit spirit can lead men and women to do great things. Life can be hard, and successfully making it through this life often requires us to fight and refuse to give in. However, when DON’T QUIT becomes the proverbial tail that wags the dog, it can result in people hanging on when they really should be letting go.
I learned that it is okay to quit (walk away from) toxic churches. I learned that it is okay to stop helping people who are sponges that suck the life out of all who come their way. Not everyone deserves my love, compassion, care, and kindness. I have found that it is better to walk away than let people ruin my life.
I have learned that it is okay to give in and give up. Realists understand the lay of life’s topography and refuse to let the demands of wishful thinking cause unnecessary physical and psychological pain. I know first-hand how hard it can be to quit doing things. Chronic pain and illness have forced me to quit doing a number of things. DON’T QUIT still taunts me, but I no longer let it force me to do things I can no longer do. Just this past weekend, I dismantled my office, knowing that I will never sit in my office chair again for any length of time. Too painful, thanks to the herniated discs in my back, a torn labrum in my shoulder, and widespread arthritis and muscle pain. I now do all of my writing for this site on the couch or in a recliner. I shed a few tears as yet another aspect of my life went by the wayside, but it was time. It’s been eighteen months since I used the computer in my office. No amount of wishing was going to restore that which has been lost. Time to metaphorically turn off the lights and lock the door.
Quitting is not failure. It is the admission that I can no longer do something. Quitting is me being honest with myself and not letting the demands of others control what I do with my short life. Several years ago, I wanted to learn woodworking. I foolishly invested several thousand dollars in equipment that went unused. Try as I might, I was unable, because of my physical limitations, to do what I wanted to do. I had no other choice but to quit. I have whittled my life down to three things I greatly value: family, photography, and writing. And photography might be on the cutting board soon. I struggle to hang on, knowing that if I let go of these things, what is left?
I know I am losing the battle against pain, illness, and time. I wonder, what more will I have to quit doing? I have given up so much, yet my body cares not. It continues to demand that I quit, quit, quit until nothing is left. I continue to fight, holding on to the few things I can still do (safely and skillfully). I know, thanks to osteoarthritis, that there will likely come a day when I can no longer write. Even now, my hands, arms, and shoulders scream in pain as I write. I ignore the screams, but I do know that someday I will be forced to give up. I know that the ravages of arthritis and fibromyalgia will one day force me to use a wheelchair all the time. For now, I push back — often stupidly so — refusing to admit that I am a broken-down old man. Will there come a day when I stop pushing? Maybe. Time will tell. All I know to do, for now, is to accept, adjust, and move foward.
Do you suffer from chronic pain or illness? How have you adjusted to your new reality? Please share your experiences in the comment section.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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