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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.

Wouldn’t John Wayne have lived a longer, healthier, happier life if he’d been a quitter?

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 nonstop fun and involves work. Quitters never win and winners never quit. But what’s the difference between cowardly quitting and wisely stopping?

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: “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 that 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?”

Until three years ago, I wrote an every-other-week piece for Perspectives’ blog, The Twelve. Then I took a three-month sabbatical. I’d found that not only did I not have time to write; more alarming, I didn’t have time to think about it. When those three months ended, I decided to give the blog up. I realized life had changed and it was time to … well, don’t tell John Wayne this, but was time to quit.

Jeff Munroe is vice president of operations and advancement at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan. This is a modified version of a piece that first appeared on  the Reformed Journal’s blog, The Twelve.

Photo: Gail Russell & John Wayne in Angel and the Badman (1947); public domain from Wikimedia Commons.