Monday, August 13, 2012

To try harder or to give it up?

Do we have to try harder?


Do we have to give up?

We receive these responses to many a question, many a doubt about purpose or direction, and many a temptation or disillusionment: "try harder" or "give up." Neither response is given as negative advice, but as positive and encouraging statements yet they do often seem to be at odds. 

For instance, if we are dissatisfied with our job situation and the circumstances this places us in, never seeming to get a break, we can learn to work out way out of it through trying harder or we can learn to quit letting it have its grip over our identity or emotions and give it up. 

We get this competing advice all the time, don't we? 

Is one of these answers preferable to the other?

Faced with adversity, is it preferable to buckle down or to give it up? 

Forgiveness or overcoming grief cannot be resolved in buckling down or working harder at them. Moving on from loss, tragedy, or disappointment has no timeline or simple steps that quicken the process but must be endured until we are able to give up what we are feeling (pain, grief, mourning, disbelief, anger).

Overcoming addiction, as evidenced in the studies surrounding 12-step programs show that giving up has a much longer-term success rate over trying harder (white-knuckling). Eventually, no matter how hard an alcoholic tries, they will fail. 

Yet, when it comes to getting out of depression and despair, I have heard stories of people needing that kick-in-the-pants to get out of bed and try and care about life. The amount of self-help books on display in the bookstore is a testament to how much we rely on finding those tricks, mental short-cuts, or habit shifting ways to try harder at losing weight, getting organized, or being a better leader.

What basis for understanding which way is better, right, or more applicable? 

Is it simply circumstances that determine? Emotional versus vocational?

I have some personal thoughts from my experience on ways that I feel that trying harder has devalued me for what I do for a company, church, or organization. Yet I also know that "giving up" could be used as a cover for apathy, which seems to be much different from giving over your cares and burdens to God, or bearing each others burdens. Can we bear each others burdens without resulting to cliches like bear with it, it will pass, or try harder?

Does God have a preference? "Be still (cease striving) and know that I am God." Could this question be caught up in the way of the world versus the way of Jesus? 

Or do neither of these questions get to the point?

So should we try harder, or give up?

Is there a third option? 


  1. In a way, God saying "Be still" is neither giving up or trying harder. It's "keep going" but let God do the heavy lifting. It isn't do as you've always done, but it is maintaining the same course.
    That said, you do bring up some good examples where giving up or trying harder is the right course of action. Nothing is absolute in this world.

    1. Interesting point. I agree - because the translations that use "cease striving and know that I am God" give that meaning too. Its like trying harder is not the answer, but neither is completely not caring. Perhaps, somehow, in stopping our obsessing over trying to be somebody, or mattering, or are completely on the other end of the spectrum and feeling isolated, alone, or cut off, is that we just need that reminder to stop worrying and know that God IS. Trying harder can be for an idol, or perhaps a selfishness, while giving up could be for self-loathing or despair...

      So there is a third option that doesn't look for fulfillment in what we do or don't do, but who we are in knowing God. How does that come across in our advice compared with these two questions, I wonder?