When I was 23 years old I found myself sitting on the fence in a long term, off and on relationship. I had one foot in, the other foot out, and I was literally filled with anxiety as to what decision to make. Should we stay together? Should we break up? Am I ready for marriage? What if she’s not the one? What if she’s the one and I make the wrong choice? What if I miss out on my vocation by staying in this relationship? Like many of you, I had all these paralyzing “what if” questions swirling around in my mind. Then one day as I was standing in the office of a co-worker lamenting about my dilemma, my co-worker slowly began to tell me the story of the double-minded person that the scriptures write about in James 1:6-8:
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
The imagery and text call to mind someone who is “to be divided against oneself” or who “wavers.” My inability to make a decision and act on it, left me feeling tossed back and forth in the ensuing tumultuous waves of indecision. That is how I felt. I was a person who was living life never quite fully committed to any course of action, but continually making non-committal decisions.
When we live in an anxious fear of making wrong decisions in our lives we aren’t able to constrain them to just one aspect of our life, but they tend to bleed into other areas of our existence. As I work with young adults in ministry and counseling two aspects of decision-making have reared their head more prevalently.
First, too many choices seem to paralyze many people from making a decision. Author Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice writes about the anxiety that accompanies even buying jeans these days:
“At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates…But clinging tenaciously to all the choices available to us contributes to bad decisions, to anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction—even to clinical depression.”
Second, there is a fear of missing out on something. Last year MTV did a poll of 13-30 year olds and their web habits and came up with the term FOMO (fear of missing out) after reviewing the findings. There is a constant feeling in our culture that we might be missing out on something better, therefore, we rarely commit to a decision that we can’t back out of if something better comes along.
When we live life in fear of making the wrong decision or of missing out on something, it robs us of being able to be present not only with others, but with ourselves. We constantly live in a future state of “what if” that keeps us never rooted in the present.
Why do we often find it so difficult to make a yes or no decision as Jesus encourages us to do, instead opting to waffle back and forth in fear of making the wrong one? What can you do differently to combat the fears and make decisions?
There is no easy answer to these questions. Acting decisively in the fear of making the wrong choice, or in the fear of missing out takes practice. And it takes being okay with failing at times. But here are some recommendations that I practice not only with my clients and the people I serve in ministry, but that I daily try to exercise in my own life.
First, commit to being more intentional in your life. Decide not to sit back and be a passive observer in your life, as if you have no say in matters. Don’t expect a vocation, relationship, spiritual life, et cetera to just happen automatically. You need to commit to being purposeful and take action.
Second, practice experimenting with your options. Instead of finding or waiting for the perfect option to always come along, just make a choice. Experiment with that option. Most of our daily decisions that we get stuck on are not life and death. And it is these decisions that can become the practice ground and foundational building blocks for making more difficult ones later in life. You don’t know how to make a decision to marry/not marry a person if you have never practiced making lots of other little decisions along the way.
Third, wrestle with God. One of the most perplexing verses in the New Testament for me is Romans 8:28 where Paul says:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
I don’t understand the mystery of that passage, and how things are worked out for our good. But I do know that the Greek word in the passage for “works” conveys the idea of cooperation or working together. I am a participant in my life, therefore, I must make decisions. I don’t believe that God asks me to understand the intricacies or outcome of every little decision I make, but I do believe He has called me to participate with Him.
The Bible is full of stories about people who were faced with making tough decisions without knowing how they would play out. My hope for you is that you wed together spiritual practices (prayer, scripture reading, community, silence, et cetera) that strengthen your discernment and resolve to act when decisions come up in your life.