You can back up without giving up. The timing is everything. Like an old TV ad for a California wine company put it: “Nothing before its time.” Because you cannot seem to have something now does not mean that in time, it might still be yours. You may have to persevere, and find out through your continuing efforts what your true values are.
One of life’s important lessons has to do with delayed gratification. Too many of our youth give up too easily. Just because something is difficult, just because you fail, maybe more than once, does not mean you should give up and cave in. Looking back at my life, I have learned more from my failures, frustrations and setbacks than my successes and easy victories. As I wrote: “A setback is a place to grow.”
I remember completing everything but my dissertation for a Ph.D. program at Northwestern University. I had in hand a little sheep-skin that read “A.B.D.” meaning, “All but dissertation.” I was so tired of school, having gone directly from completing a Masters of Divinity degree into the doctoral program, that I did not have the will or energy to even begun the years of work which would be necessary to finish the degree.
I had a conversation with a friend who maybe knew me better than I knew myself, at least about this. I told him I was not sure I would ever complete the degree, that maybe I had started something I was not going to finish. His comment to me was just what I needed to hear: “You will get hungry again. Then you will write the dissertation.” And that is exactly what happened. A year later the hunger for the degree returned and two years work later, I received the diploma. And once you have a degree, no one can take it from you.
To back up means to give something a rest. That may be the best alternative in a situation of fatigue, dejection or loss of ambition. So give it a break. But don’t necessarily throw in the towel. The value of enduring through difficulties must not be underestimated. You develop character and personal strength by keeping on keeping on.
This is equally true in human relationships. In my years in the parish, I determined never to give up on someone. They just might come around. Often they did. I remember one particular couple who left a church I was serving, and did not return my phone calls. Every time I drove by their home, I would offer a silent prayer for their well-being. A few years later, they showed up at church one Sunday, and got re-involved, this time for good.
Only God can put a period on a person’s life. It is for us to at least leave the door open for what the future might yet hold. I have seen miraculous reconnections of long alienated family members. One time, for example, I visited a dying man I had never met, who needed me to serve as his pastor though his final days. As his end was soon approaching, we had a frank heart to heart discussion about life and death. We prayed together, and as I got up to leave, an estranged daughter called out of the blue, seeking to reconnect with her father before it was too late. It must have answered the father’s unvoiced prayer. It turned out that neither one of them had given up on the other.