Have you ever just walked away from something? No apologies or explanations?
Have you ever quit something you were passionate about and devoted to but knew it was time to say goodbye to?
What are the guidelines to use to know when to stay and when to go?
How can we walk away without guilt or shame?
What does God think when we give up?
The other night my husband and I decided to try the “authentic” Mexican restaurant in our new town. We thought it looked cozy — albeit slightly reminiscent of a poorly reinvented Italian restaurant — but if the food is good who cares?
After waiting for at least five minutes to be seated and at least another ten minutes to receive a menu (no chips or salsa or water), we began to doubt our choice. Perusing the menu we couldn’t help notice it looked like the type of menu with stock photos of badly prepared food you would see taped to a food wagon at a fair or carnival. But, looking around, it seemed like everyone was enjoying their food so we stayed.
The waitress finally came to take our order hastily asking, “And drinks? Water is fine for you?” Still, no chips and salsa which, quite frankly, is my favorite part of Mexican dining. Water? Why would she assume we only wanted water?
Finally, the chips and salsa came but that was no salsa. It looked like someone had opened a can of tomato sauce and poured it into a shallow bowl. By now, we were rather nervous about the quality of food and had already invested almost 30 minutes to get to this point in the dinner. But, due to their bad service, we had plenty of time to deliberate. We knew the other Mexican joint down the street was better so we made the decision to split.
Have you ever just walked away from something? No apologies or explanations? Or have you ever quit something you were passionate about and devoted to but knew it was time to say goodbye to?
We felt like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as we slinked our way out of the restaurant and headed for the car. We hadn’t done anything illegal or immoral like dine and dash but it’s not like us to walk away from a commitment. I know, ordering crappy food from a cheap menu is hardly a commitment but the Puritanical ethic is well ingrained in our psyches.
You finish what you start. You don’t act rude. You stay silent even if others are wrong or rude.
It’s not the first time I’ve walked away from something out of principle. Once we walked out of church in the middle of the sermon. Once. One time in attending church regularly for almost 30 years.
The new assistant pastor’s message was a cheap shot aimed at women caged in comedy. In fact, it was offensive to men as well because my husband (who doesn’t even like to send undercooked food back or enter into any confrontation whatsoever) was the one who said, “We're leaving.”
The sermon was a flimsy message about the difference between men and women using tired and worn stereotypes about how all men like to do is watch football and have sex and how all women hate sex and just want to shop for shoes. We hoped it would get better but it didn’t, so we left.
When walking away is hard
Those are easy examples of how to walk away, but what about when you need to walk away from something you are entrenched in, or something you were deeply committed to and really sold out to? How do you know when you should stay or go and what’s the best way to make your exit?
I have deeply entrenched passions about my character and my code of ethics — I also have a cutoff point. Inside me, there is what I call “the line.” It’s an invisible line that when crossed changes everything. I don’t know where the line is for each person or situation, but when the line is crossed I instinctively know. I’m not vengeful or retributive, but I know when I need to leave.
Sometimes I leave physically and sometimes I leave in my heart before I am brave enough to make the true break. It’s hard for me to give up on things I’ve invested a lot of time and soul into, but I read this quote once and it’s worth remembering:
Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it. — Aubrey De Graf
Life is short and the older we get the faster it seems to whiz by. I realize that I no longer have time for bad salsa, misogynist sermons, shoes that make my feet hurt, or staying where I don’t belong.
If you are loyal to a fault like me, you may find it hard to walk away, say good-bye, start fresh, or set boundaries. But sometimes you must.
Stop Trying to Belong Because You Already Do
When the need for approval and the fear of missing out fade away belonging is as easy as a Sunday morning cup of coffee
When walking away is better than staying
When you are taken for granted, undervalued, or underutilized. I knew I was burning out at my last job. If I stopped long enough to reflect, I could tell I was undervalued and I began to feel like a chess piece on a game board — not valued for my expertise or experience or tapped into for my passion and loyalty. Move her here, make her do that, fill this spot.
Matters came to a head when I requested accommodations for chronic pain in my neck — an accumulation of years of stress and the workload I was carrying combined with improper office settings and constant travel.
The line was crossed when I was interrogated by HR, basically accusing me of exaggerating my symptoms and bullying me into backing down. That was the day I left my job — not physically but in my heart.
I wish I could say I had the strength to quit right then and there, but we all know that walking away isn’t always as clear-cut as dumping the local restaurant’s salsa. Walking away can be messy, come in stops and starts, and usually happens gradually. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you're still hanging on when you know in your heart you should leave. Just keep moving forward until you can close the door behind you.
When you no longer share the vision. I loved my first real job. I taught first grade at a Christian school just blocks from my home. I loved teaching, I loved the vision for the school, I loved the faculty and the children and the parents. It was a family that I could turn to for support and fun and mentoring.
But all that changed when the administration changed and the vision for the school changed. I was young, so letting go wasn’t my forte and I was angry that I had to move on because things changed. But, it was an important lesson for me. As I cried over leaving what felt like home, God whispered, “Don't hold on to what is good when I have best.”
I’ve remembered that moment often and use it to act bravely when it’s time to step away or forge a new path. It’s still not always easy, but letting go and moving on have taught me that it’s usually for the best.
When the cost of staying is higher than you want to pay. We all want to belong, but at what cost? There are times when staying and belonging feel too much like compromising and losing yourself. That, for me, is too high a price to pay. When I catch myself editing what I want to say, or retreating to silence, or feeling self-conscious about who I am, I know it’s time to walk away.
We can all tolerate compromising and it’s actually a godly discipline to not have to have the last word or one’s way, but when you find yourself acting like someone you’re not to gain approval or recognition or acceptance…please just walk away.
Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. — Dr. Seuss
When there is abuse or harm (in any way). I shouldn’t have to say this, you should know this, but sometimes we can stay too long and rewire our thinking so it becomes unhealthy or twisted.
Dr. Caroline Leaf explains in her book, Switch on Your Brain, that being entrenched in an abusive relationship can actually create brain damage. In other words, the recipient of the abuse does not recognize it as such from years of patterned abuse. This explains, in part, why your best friend won’t leave her abusive husband and keeps making excuses for his behavior and why a child from an abusive home will desperately defend a parent.
Walking away from any type of abuse happens in stages. I remember the first step I took toward leaving an abusive church. I was standing in my mother’s kitchen and I had a vision that Jesus was on the other side of the room and He was calling out to me. I couldn’t focus on what He was saying or what He wanted because my pastor was in between us playing what looked like a game of pickle-in-the-middle. He kept jumping in front of me and blocking my view of Jesus, waving his arms and vying for my attention.
I didn’t need to consult a vision interpreter to understand what this meant.
It didn’t happen right away, and we had to make a plan to extricate ourselves from what was fast becoming a cult-like leadership, but we managed to get ourselves away from that church.
We planned to leave for a vacation at the beach on the day we informed them we were leaving the church so they couldn’t contact us or harass us. I walked — literally — far away and walking was my healing as I logged miles on that beach praying, crying, reflecting, but praising God for helping us to walk away.
Don’t be afraid to walk away because God demonstrates over and over to us that leaving is often exactly what He calls us to do.
When Jesus called his would-be disciples, Peter and Andrew, they walked away — from their work, from their livelihood, from something they had been trained and groomed to do.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18–20. NIV)
My friend once said to me, “Don’t look back. Remember Lot’s wife.” And it stuck with me.
What was Lot’s wife’s issue? She looked back, looked back on something that was not in her best interest. She looked back when God was leading her to something better. She looked back and it cost her. She didn’t want to walk away.
It can cost us to stay too, sometimes more than just a bad meal, so when God says leave, we should make haste like the Hebrews as they marched out of the land of Goshen and a left behind a life of brutal slavery.
Leave, walk away, but don't look back. You’re not quitting, you’re following.