Brendan writes in to ask: “Hello, Pastor John. I’m currently an eleventh-grade junior in high school and on the varsity football team. I’ve been in a dilemma lately that I could use some guidance on. I’ve always been disciplined by my parents about not quitting anything when you make a commitment, whether it be sports, a job, etc. I never have quit anything before. But football has consumed so much of my time that I haven’t had time to spend with God or work on school, and my grades and relationship with God are in danger of slipping. I’m not a quitter. But I also have priorities and plan on being a pastor when I grow up, so the Lord and academics are immensely important. When is it time to quit football?”
Let’s think for a minute about the morality of quitting something you’ve begun. I think it’s very important to realize, especially in this situation, that sometimes quitting signifies a weakness of character or a weakness of faith in God’s provision. At other times, quitting may signify strength of character and strength of faith in God.
And of course, Brendan’s parents and Brendan himself are rightly concerned that he never quit anything because of weakness of character or lack of faith in God’s positions, especially if there has been some kind of promise or commitment, since breaking a promise is clearly a sin. It is a character flaw. It dishonors the God of truth.
But let’s think for a minute about these two kinds of quitting, because this may help Brendon sort it out.
Quitting out of Weakness
Sometimes quitting signifies a weakness of character and a weakness of faith. An activity may be difficult and demanding, and we may be lazy and so unwilling to remain in the activity, so we quit. Well that is a dishonorable way to behave. Laziness is never a good reason to quit anything.
Or the activity may be painful — like, highly demanding exercises that make us very uncomfortable for two hours in the afternoon. And we may be unwilling to deny ourselves the pleasures we could be having in the afternoon, and so we quit. And that lack of discipline and self-denial is not a virtue. It is a weakness.
Or the activity may be boring, though it is fruitful. But we may be so addicted to lots of stimulation that we are simply unwilling to be bored in any period of our lives, and so we quit. And that is a sin and a weakness that Brendan’s parents would surely want to warn him against.
Or I may not be very good at a given activity, and so I am not getting a lot of praise. I am sort of performing in an average, acceptable way, but not much applause is coming to me. And frankly, I very much like to get applause, and so I am going to quit this activity no matter how useful it is for me or others, because I want to go somewhere where I can get more praise and more applause.
So it is really plain that Brendan is right and his folks are right: quitting is often a sign of weakness and flaws, and we should do everything we can to not quit under such circumstances.
Quitting out of Strength
However — and this really needs to be said — there are situations where quitting may be the very best thing you can do and may require enormous courage and a high degree of character and faith in God.
For example, the activity may provide us with lots of notoriety or fame or popularity, but with no fruitfulness in benefiting the lives of anybody else. Quitting this activity would require a great deal of self-denial and humility and trust that God has a better way for us because we are going to lose all this popularity if we just drop out and start studying or pursue something hidden and unimpressive.
Or the activity may involve huge amounts of pleasure with very little improvement to our spiritual power or development of our gifts. And so quitting this activity would involve valuing spiritual power and fruitful exercise of our gifts above short-term physical pleasures. That would be good. That would be a beautiful thing to quit something under those circumstances.
Or the activity may be proving lots of money is coming in. So you have a job that is just paying like crazy, but you find it involves you in some compromised behaviors, shady dealings, harsh personnel strategies. To walk away from that kind of money would be a biblical virtue as we put people above money.
It is never enough to say, “Don’t be a quitter.” It is never enough to say, “Quitters are losers.” No, no, no. Sometimes losers lack the courage to quit.
Degrees of Commitment
So Brendon raises the issue: Well, what if I made a commitment? And so here are the two questions I think he should ask:
Did you, in fact, Brendon, make a promise or make a commitment to play the entire season?
Was it, perhaps, instead of a promise, the kind of intention that both you and the coach knew contained implicit conditions and qualifications?
I would say that to the degree that the commitment to play rises to the level of an unqualified promise — to that degree — you finish the season. You don’t break your promise. You find other ways to fight the fight of faith, to get near to the Lord, to do your schoolwork, but you don’t break the promise.
However, my guess is that even if there was an implicit or explicit promise to play the season, a conversation with the coach gives him the right — that is, he has the right and gives him the opportunity — to release you from a commitment that you made. And that is the conversation I would probably pursue.
So if your studies are suffering and your walk with the Lord is drying up because it is not being fed and watered, I would say that both of these outweigh the importance of football and are worth a serious conversation with your coach.