Stay the Course

If you’re like most people, there have been times in your life when you thought about quitting: a job, a friendship, a project, a marriage. Sometimes when things feel heavy, the temptation to throw our hands up and simply quit can be very real and very strong. 

Conversely, there are times when we should quit. Just ask any recovered addict, abuser, cheater, liar, gambler…they’ll tell you that quitting was the best thing they ever did. We all have something(s) that we should give up. Quitting is sometimes a necessary brushstroke to create a complete picture of healthy physical, mental, emotional and spiritual living. 

I traveled to South Carolina to visit my eldest daughter not too long ago. As I was passing through Rock Hill, I noticed a billboard for a family law firm on the side of the highway that depicted a woman sporting a smart business suit and short-cropped hair, smugly postured with a hand on her hip. The caption on the billboard read:

“Life’s short.

Get a divorce.”

That billboard broke my heart, and I thought it about the remainder of my drive, and throughout the rest of my day. I could hardly believe anyone would think that message was appropriate to broadcast to passers-by. 

Later that day, my girls and I decided to go to the zoo. While I was waiting for my daughters to come out of the ladies’ room, I stood in the shade and did a little people-watching. Red-faced, smiling children were oohing and ahhing at the different animals, dragging their obedient, happy parents here and there. I noticed a father and son pair with their matching fire-red hair, pairs of siblings with cute matching outfits. I marveled at the beauty of family, the innocence of children, and how blessed I feel to be a mother. And then I saw them.

A young father was pushing a toddler in a stroller, and beside him walked his beautiful wife…although she wasn’t simply walking, she was ambulating with the necessary aid of a rather intricate and complex-looking pair of crutches that were guided by her small forearms. To my eyes, she moved with what appeared to be relative ease, but it was readily apparent that she had a physical disability. There was something about the normalcy of her gait and the ease of their movement together as a family that made me realize that she may have been afflicted, but she wasn’t affected. She may have been disabled, but she was not at all unable. 

My mind flashed back to that ridiculous, horrible billboard in that moment. “Life’s short. Get a divorce.”

Sometimes when we see strangers, we build stories around them based upon the context in which we encounter them. In that little family, I saw strength and perseverance and love. I saw a family that didn’t quit. But I also pondered.

What if…what if…that young woman had quit? What if she didn’t realize her value and gave up on aspirations of marriage and motherhood based on her own insecurities? What if her husband had been unable or unwilling to accept and embrace the woman’s disability? What if he had never spoken the first word to her, or worse yet…what if he had shunned her? I thought about her pregnancy, the physical change in her center of gravity…how difficult (and potentially dangerous) it may have been for her to carry her sweet baby to term. Did her doctor ever discourage her by saying, “You should avoid having children” or perhaps even “You can’t have children”? Naturally all of these questions are mere conjecture, but I have thought of that family many times since that day. When I reflect on how difficult her life must be (in the story I built around a stranger within just a few minutes’ time), I also think of the disgusting contrast of the terrible billboard. What if either of those humans had said, “Life’s short. Get a divorce.”? What if they had quit? The excuse of finite time is not an excuse to quit. 

To be clear, I write this as a divorced woman myself, and certainly not from a place of judgment. I have given up before. I have quit a marriage. Granted, I didn’t quit the marriage by myself, but I did take part in the quitting. I have quit friendships. I have quit jobs. I have quit hobbies and diets and exercise routines. I quit big hair and in the late 90’s (as aforementioned, some things may be shamelessly quit). The only Constant in the roller coaster of our lives is God. He never quits us. 

The unsettling command of the billboard juxtaposed over the gentle, beautiful strength of the couple at the zoo has stayed with me, keeps speaking to me, and I feel led to remind the reader reading this not to quit. I’m not speaking exclusively about marriage…the value of perseverance extends across many facets of our lives. I encourage you to trust God in all that you do, in His purpose and plan for you, that you seek His guidance in your decisions. As I write this, I feel the Father using me…to also minister to me in this season of my life. 

In the past few weeks, I have been thinking quite a bit about the Lord’s promise to deliver Paul to Rome, which mirrors His promises to deliver us into the purpose that He has planned for us. In Paul’s case, the Lord appeared to Paul in Acts 23:11 (KJV), saying: “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.” Paul was promised passage to Rome…but what Paul didn’t know was that he would go to Rome as a prisoner. God doesn’t promise us that our journey will be easy, He only promises us that if we move in obedience to His guidance and direction, He will not leave or forsake us.

Notice how the Lord begins His promise to Paul: “Be of good cheer…”

The same passage in the NIV Bible begins: “Take courage…”

I find the difference between the translations revealing. In the latter translation, “Take courage” almost seems to serve as a caution of impending trouble. And it would be a just warning. Paul was indeed bound for tumult before he would reach his destination. But in the former translation, “Be of good cheer” reminds me that God commands Paul, and us, to have joy regardless of our circumstance. Neither taking courage or being of good cheer make me think of quitting. Taking courage reminds me of the power of God, and being of good cheer reminds me of our power in God. Both of those sentiments make me want to keep going, to soldier on, to persevere. But I also understand the temptation to quit, and the insecurity, overwhelm and feeling of hopelessness that can drive that temptation. Maybe the key to not quitting is actually to quit…to quit leaning on our own self-reliance and lean into the loving, protective, understanding arms of the Father.

I saw a local church marquis yesterday that read, “Even broken crayons can still color. Don’t give up on God’s plan for your life.” True, we may at times feel broken and inadequate and fearful. But God still loves us, and He still supplies us with purpose, and the strength and resources to execute that purpose. He calls us to stay in His will, to lean on Him for guidance…not to give up. He will show us the way, even if the way isn’t easy.

If I were to erect a billboard, I would word it something like this:

“Life’s short.

Stay the course.”

God bless you. Stay safe, stay in prayer, and stay strong in the Lord.

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