In Dr. Henry Cloud's excellent book, Necessary Endings, he includes a chapter entitled, "Hoping Versus Wishing: The Difference Between What's Worth Fixing and What Should End." How do we determine what things in our lives are worth fixing and what should end? When do we cling to hope and when should we give up?
I've always believed that I should never give up. Even when I played basketball--which was a long time ago--if my team was down by twenty points with two minutes left in the game, I always believed there could be a miraculous turnaround, and we could come out on top. To me giving up was a sign of weakness and hopelessness, and it even seemed contrary to the way of Christ. The Bible does say, after all, "The one who . . . perseveres . . . will be blessed in his doing" (James 1:25).
On October 29, 1941, at the Harrow School commencement ceremony, Winston Churchill addressed the student body and said, "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up." I think he meant it. But even Churchill recognized that there are times when you need to close a door, end a chapter, or bring things to end, because later in the same speech, he said, "Never give in . . . except to convictions of honor and good sense."
The challenge is knowing when it makes good sense to shut the business down, go ahead and retire, change jobs, or even end a relationship. As Dr. Cloud puts it, "To hold on to `hope' when what you really have is merely a wish is to fail to grasp reality." In hard decisions where we are attempting to discern the difference between hope and a wish, we need to get to the "hopeless moment," where we acknowledge that more of the same does not bring change. When you hit rock bottom, whether it be in a dead-end job, an addiction, or a relationship, it's typically only at that moment that you realize you are utterly hopeless in your own strength and circumstances to turn things around. You can wish your spouse would change or your addictions would go away, but you finally come to the realization that YOU have to change and move forward in your life either in a new environment, business, or direction.
It's often the case that a spouse married to an alcoholic who continues to drink will never see her marriage change until she reaches that "hopeless moment" and makes the decision to move out. If she hopes her spouse will overcome his addiction, most of the time it won't happen until he faces dire consequences, and she begins to see actions of his life change. She can't base her hope on past behavior. The alcoholic husband has to chart a new course. This is also the case in a job that is quickly going nowhere. You can wish it were better, but it's not until you reach that "hopeless moment" that you will ever be forced to set a new course of improving your current situation or moving on.
Life decisions are tough. If they were easy, everybody would be moving forward with great enthusiasm in their careers and marriages. Fortunately, for us, we don't have to make those decisions alone. We have the Spirit who guides us into all truth (John 16:13). We have a community of Christ followers who will encourage and build us up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), even when it means listening to hard truth delivered in love (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 4:15). And we also have the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), which implies that we're willing to read it and apply it to our lives.
The next time you're faced with a hard decision of whether to keep something going or give it a nice burial, be sure that you're looking at the foundation for your hope. Is it wishful thinking, or have you reached that "hopeless moment," where you know you can't do it on your own? When you reach that point, and I pray you will, then you're in the best possible position, because whether the decision is to turn things around or bring them to a close, you are doing so through the leading of the Holy Spirit and the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
"For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).