Essay

In Praise of Quitting

By June 8, 2015 4 Comments
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By Jeff Munroe

There’s a billboard out by the highway featuring a picture of John Wayne in all his western glory with the caption “Don’t Much Like Quitters, Son.” It’s one of the omnipresent “values” billboards that line our motorways. Every time I see it, I’m filled with questions. I probably shouldn’t take billboards so seriously, but I can’t help myself.

What does it say about our culture that we need values billboards in the first place?

Wouldn’t a better value be to follow the lead of other countries in the world that don’t allow billboards?
And wouldn’t John Wayne have lived a longer, healthier, happier life if he’d been a quitter–namely if he’d quit smoking and drinking and womanizing?

But the picture of John Wayne isn’t really depicting the human John Wayne who smoked six packs of cigarettes a day, was married three times, had multiple affairs, and was known for being an angry drunk by the late afternoon on his movie sets. It’s the rough and tumble western hero John Wayne, the irascible loner who has to take on a gang of hornswogglers in Rio Bravo or True Grit and countless other Westerns. It’s that John Wayne, and he doesn’t like quitters.

I get that. Every parent has had the experience of having your child start something – a sport, a musical instrument, a scout troop–and then tell you he or she wants to quit because it isn’t non-stop fun and involves work. Quitters never win and winners never quit. But what’s the difference between cowardly quitting and wisely stopping?

One of the key questions in life is “what do I need to stop doing?”

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

“Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you.’”

Those are two biblical examples of stopping. Here’s a third, one of my favorite obscure stories of the Bible, tucked away in the book of II Samuel. Hezekiah becomes king of Israel, and is a reformer. Among the things he does is this: “He broke in pieces the bronze pole that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan.” The bronze serpent that had been their deliverance in the book of Numbers had now become an idol. Hezekiah smashed it.

It’s a great exercise for people, churches, businesses and other organizations to ask, “What practices and activities that we found helpful in the past do we need to abandon today?” A normal thing that happens to competent people is their job descriptions keep growing. Those who are found faithful with small amounts are given more. But humans have limits, and every time someone is asked to do more the corresponding question should be, “What am I going to stop doing in order to do this?”

Which brings me to some self-indulgent remarks about myself and The Twelve. I took a three month sabbatical from this blog this winter. Not only didn’t I have time to write; more alarming to me was the fact that I didn’t have time to think about it. Now, as those three months end, I have decided to retire from The Twelve. I reserve the right to occasionally do a piece if I see a billboard that irritates me, but my time as a regular contributor has come to an end. I enjoyed writing the first entry ever on this blog, and enjoyed the years I was a regular writer. But life has changed and it’s time to…well, don’t tell John Wayne this, but it’s time to quit.

Jeff Munroe is the Vice President of Operations and Advancement at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. As noted above, today Jeff concludes his time as a regular contributor to The Twelve.  Jeff, we thank you heartily for your great writing, witty insights, and warm heart.

Jeff Munroe

Jeff Munroe is the Executive Vice President of Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.

4 Comments

  • don Mook says:

    You are the best, Jeff. Don’t quit telling jokes. So a horse walks into a bar…nevermind.

  • Henry Ottens says:

    So good to read your wise words once more, Jeff. I had hoped it meant more to come. But I forgive you for quitting. Look forward to an occasional come-back.

  • Leanne Van Dyk says:

    Say it ain’t so, Jeff! I will miss your sharp and incisive commentary on all manner of things that usually left me laughing and always left me wiser.

  • Jackson says:

    Thanks for this, Jeff. I was flabbergasted by the apparently inadvertent mixed message of this billboard. Evidently, they did not remember that the Duke died of cancer, SHOULD have quit smoking, and now he seems to be exhibiting disrespect from the grave for anyone who does quit.

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