Quit While You Still Love It

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A number of my friends are facing a crossroads at the moment asking the same immortal question as The Clash did in 1982: Should I stay or should I go? The pattern, I observe, goes something like this:
Move to a new place
Settle into new place
Enjoy the new place
RESTLESSNESS.

When I first became a Christian minister to university students in Oxford, England, I was beside myself with joy.

“This is my dream job,” I would tell anyone who would listen. “People normally do this job for a maximum of five years, but not me. I’m never going to leave.”

I meant it, too. I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything as fulfilling, anything that fit me so well. I knew myself, and I knew my gifts, and this job, in this place was the very pinnacle of my ideal.

Fast forward to three and a half years later, and I was sitting with a slightly older, very much wiser, female minister, sobbing my eyes out, confessing how wearied I was, and for the first time I was wondering whether I should leave, after all.

Are you a settler, or an explorer? I am a settler. For the first eighteen years of my life I lived in the same place, same house, attending one primary school and one secondary school. If my life were a rail station it would be Stability Central. This feeling of restlessness was a new one to me.

I felt guilty for even suggesting the possibility. Stability is one of the Benedictine principles, and monks commit to being part of an ongoing community on a long-term basis, even when it gets tough. Other people would kill (not literally—that wouldn’t be very Christian) for that job—and I was considering stopping just because I was finding it a bit hard? I had to find a way through.

It was autumn, and the room we were in was surrounded by big trees—I’m not sure of my foliage, but they looked like they should be oak or beech trees. That is what I should be like, I thought. The solid trunk, holding steady. I would just have to find a new strength from somewhere and figure out how to carry on.

That wise woman took my hand and met me with deep sympathy.
“Student ministry is exhausting,” she said. “You can’t do it forever.”
But that was the point—I had thought I really would do it forever.
“It’s my dream job!” I wailed. “I love it.”
She nodded.
“Quit while you still love it,” she said.

That encounter stays in my mind, because it was some of the best advice I’ve ever received—quit while you still love it. I had felt the restlessness and I had tried to press it down. But God was in the restlessness.

Today I look out of the window. Autumn is coming late here, and there are a mixture of green and brown leaves on the trees. The day is still, but occasionally, there is just the smallest gust of wind, and I see the fallen leaves lift and shuffle with the breeze.

One of the metaphors for the Holy Spirit is the wind. You can’t see it, but you can feel it. When I look back to that crucial conversation with my minister friend, I can see that it opened the way for me to make the right decision, to quit while I still loved the job. I quit just in time, because my health took a turn for the worse the following year, and there is no way I would have been able to sustain the pace of work I’d been doing.

I have always associated God with stability, contentment, peace. These things are justifiable associations, and this generation needs to hear the challenge of stability as much as the challenge of the pioneer. But the Holy Spirit is not only a dove, but a rushing wind.

Today I look out of the window and watch the leaves looping in a spiral with the wind, dancing along the road. Could it be that God is in the restlessness as well as the contentment? Perhaps that feeling of discomfort is a nudge from the Almighty that things need to change. Sometimes you need to quit while you still love it.

I think of all my friends facing a big move, and trying to decide whether to stay or go, whether God is speaking as wind or dove.

For those who know in your gut that you need to leave, but it was your dream job, in your dream place—let me be that wise woman to look in your eyes and hold your hand. There are new places, and fresh dreams, and God is to be found in them all.

Tanya Marlow

Tanya Marlow

Writer at Thorns and Gold
Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology, until she got sick, and became a writer. She likes answering the tricky questions of faith that most avoid, and writing honestly about suffering and searching for God. Tanya has written a short book on Ruth and Naomi’s story in the Bible, interweaving it with her own journey. You can buy it here: Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty
Tanya Marlow

Latest posts by Tanya Marlow (see all)

  • Writing from Stability Central with the happy truth that sometimes the Spirit blows a gale right in the station. Raising and homeschooling four boys is not a calling from which I can move on (but let me tell you about the days that I wanted to!) until I’m truly finished. However, God has faithfully provided the dancing leaves around the edges to keep me believing that this truly is my dream job, and anything else He does through me in these settled, stable days is pure gift.

    • Michele, this was such a beautiful comment! I’m so glad that those four boys have you rising and homeschooling them – I can really sense the dedication and love you have for them. And I love that God has given you dancing leaves around the edges of things. That’s such a lovely way to put it. Blessings to you today!

  • Thank you, thank you! I needed this today. I am an explorer and get restless very easily (One of my theme songs is Mindy Gledhill’s Anchor if that tells you anything!). I have stayed put longer where I am than I have for a long time. I have often fought the restlessness only to find God in it later. I am facing a crossroads and am in limbo in some ways. Grateful for this encouragement today!

    • Lovely Nicole! Really interesting to hear that you are an explorer – must be really weird for you to be in this place for longer than you’ve been elsewhere. Praying for you today in your crossroads.

  • Terri

    I was head sacristan at our parish. I would pinch myself every morning because it was my dream job, it never felt like work. I lived it and breathed it. Two years after the death of our eldest son, I resigned. I thought I would be 100 years old and still be sacristan. Then suddenly it was over, I knew I had to leave. I love that you write about God being in the restlessness and the wind. I am still searching and wandering, I love the term explorer! It can be lonely at times. Thank you for your beautiful words of wisdom. Wishing you a peace filled day.

    • So you know exactly what I’m talking about when you can’t believe you have a dream job, and then you quit it! I’m so sorry about the death of your son. I love that you are still searching and wandering. And oh gosh yes – it really can be lonely sometimes. Thank you for this lovely comment.

  • Oh, can I relate to the feeling of restless, and making a recent big move was liberating…letting myself get caught up in that Wind that knows exactly where its going. So love this post, Tanya.

    • Oh yay! I’m so glad you could relate to this – and that the move was liberating. It’s so hard to make the leap beforehand, but I’m glad you did. 🙂

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  • Tanya, I think that if we are in ministry, we are accepting an invitation. I have experienced severe burnout in my work, and at first I thought I was just not as tough as the other kids on the block. Then I wondered if I really had a calling. Then I had a period of saying, I will never help anyone ever again. Fortunately, I allowed time, the support of friends, silence, and careful discernment to take hold. And I went back to my work … a different set of job skills but still the same calling. And I realize that time is only a construct and hardly anything lasts forever. Thank you for sharing. Remember that taking care of yourself is a requirement. (love your neighbor as yourself….) A hug, Mary Ellen

  • “God is in the restlessness.” That line hit me this morning. I have always viewed restlessness as something was wrong. Maybe it’s not….maybe it’s about the Holy Spirit and the way He is moving? I also loved how you said God has fresh dreams, I so often fear that God is done with me and that if I let go and move on there will be nothing more for me. Thank you Tanya for this piece. It has been an affirmation this morning.

  • I am an explorer but I don’t mean to be. God always seems to place me in new jobs, ministries, churches. I’ve been at my current church for eight years now, which is FOREVER in my world. It’s been nice to be a settler for a while. But I can relate to the restlessness too. I try to make sure I remain open to where God is leading. For me, that’s key.