The victory of staying with it

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By David Whitlock

The year was 1965. We — my mother, dad, and older brother, Mark — had just finished supper.

That’s when Eric called to speak to Mark.

Just a few hours before, I had been playing football on the sandlot team Mark had formed after I had hounded him to do so. The sandlot team was my only hope of playing, since I was still too young for Washington Elementary School’s football team. Eric was even younger than I was. Mark was the perfect coach for our team. After all, he played football for the mighty Bulldogs of Altus High. He coached us up, and even scheduled a game with another team that one of his football buddies had formed.

Then Eric called.

I perked up and tried to hear what he was saying.

Eric had a slight speech impediment and couldn’t pronounce his “r’s.” Besides that, his voice sounded nervous, like he was afraid to say whatever it was he was going to say. He could barely get a word out, as if he were chewing on each letter, stretching Mark’s one syllable name into three.

 “Ma-a-k,” Eric stammered.

“Yes, Eric,” Mark said.

“Ma-a-k,” Eric repeated.

“Yes, Eric,” Mark said again.

“Ma-a-k,” Eric said a third time.

“Yes, Eric, what is it you are trying to say?”

And then all at once, so quickly I almost missed it, in a rapid fire response Eric spit out the words, finally stating the reason for his call: “I wanna quit.”

That was it, not good news, for we would have to find another kid for Eric’s position, and our game was just a few days away. We wondered, should we give it up and disband the team? Quitting seemed easier than finding a replacement for Eric.

Quitting is almost always easier than enduring.

I heard a story about a prominent pastor who abruptly resigned. He wasn’t leaving for another church, he was leaving the ministry altogether.

His congregation was shocked. It was a good church; he was well liked; his salary was sufficient.  

When they asked him why, he simply said, “The relentless return of Sunday.”

For you it may be the relentless return of Monday, or the deafening sound of silence at the dinner table, where you meet each evening with that person you no longer seem to know or care for. Or maybe it’s the daily screech of the rusty medicine cabinet door, reminding you that your illness is not going away, that your life is grinding down.

True, sometimes walking away is the best thing to do; it can even be more courageous than staying.

Some relationships need to die; it’s best to leave some jobs; and we outgrow some hobbies.

There is a time to quit.

But not often, nor easily.

Quitting can become a way of life if we let it.

When Seinfeld’s George Costanza (Jason Alexander) managed to get fired from his volunteer job at the retirement home, he encouraged Jerry and Elaine to quit and join him:  “Yeah, I’m a great quitter. It’s one of the few things I do well. ... I come from a long line of quitters.

My father was a quitter, my grandfather was a quitter. ... I was raised to give up.”

The world most of us live in doesn’t permit us to do only what we want and give up the rest.

Jay Kesler, president emeritus of Taylor University, wrote that his experience in life suggests that maybe 15 percent of our time is spent doing the things we love, and about 15 percent of the time we do the things we hate but are required to do.

 “The remaining majority of the time,” he observed, “is spent just doggedly getting your work done, going through the routine, fulfilling obligations, and keeping promises.”

Not every Sunday is Easter Sunday: Crowds come and go, but the call to obedience remains.

And with it comes joy, when we refuse to give up.

Maybe quitting our team was the right thing for young Eric to do.

Football may not have been his sport.

But it was meant for us to persevere and play the cross-town rival on a crisp Saturday in late September. Eddie Carder did suffer a dislocated thumb; I took a shot on the chin; Jimmy Coker scraped a knee; and thanks to a girl, Kelly Copeland, who much to our surprise could play with the best of the guys, we found a fine replacement for Eric.

And yes, we won the game.

But the lesson I learned in the process was much larger than winning a sandlot football game.

The option of quitting may look like sweet relief.

But staying with it is a victory regardless of the scoreboard.