Making decisions are some of the hardest things we do. And we do it a million times a day. Some decisions are small: what time to get up, what to eat, what not to eat, what to make for dinner, what to wear, what to do today, what to do first, what can wait until tomorrow? The list goes on. Then there are the less frequent, yet bigger decisions: where to live, what to study in school, what job to apply for, what job to take, who to make friends with, who to marry, what church to call home, where will our children go to school? Some of the decisions facing us are even larger still.
Even after all of those decisions are made, they don't stay made. We may have to consider any number of things: a move, a promotion, a return to school, a career change, a new friendship, a surgery, or a trip. Sometimes these are adventurous decisions, and other times, born of grief.
We cannot get out of decision-making. We can't skip the hard ones and hope they go away. And we shouldn't want to. Decisions are privileges of our freedom and free will, even the difficult ones that make us cry to be made. I read this recently about the decisions we avoid,
"A whispered chaos swirls in the minds of those who carry unmade decisions." Emily P. Freeman
It is not good for us (or those we love) to refuse to make decisions. We simply must decide what to do next. Think of if as being kind and loving to make your decisions well and good. But how are we to do that? Where do we get wisdom? Are there patterns in good decision making?
Over time I have discovered a few patterns in my own decision making process: pray, read my Bible every day, listen to the Spirit, spend time with others who listen to God, go for daily walks outside, choose life and life-giving ways on the regular, act in creativity and courage as often as I can, and soemtimes when I think I can't. These are the practical things I do to live a life of wisdom and love, and to be ready for making decisions. After those regular rhythms, I tend to follow my intuition. But that can be wonky to duplicate for future decisions or pass along to others.
That is where "The Next Right Thing" book comes in handy, only I hadn't found it yet.
I made a big decision last summer to go to Seminary. It was a decision that was a longtime coming. It felt big. It felt momentous. Maybe that is why I kept that dream on the back burner for so long. I held that decision in possibility mode for years thinking that I would go when it was clear to go. I am a big believer that waiting is under-rated and good for us, good for our souls. Waiting has it's own good work to do within us. But as my youngest daughter got married, I started asking myself, "Now, what are your waiting for?". It was either time to go or time to dream a new dream.
I began to break that decision up into smaller pieces with these questions. Was I being called to go to Seminary, or another form of graduate school? What would I study? What was my purpose for going back to school? What was I looking for? Where would I go? When would I go?
That was a breakthrough I didn't even know I needed! Baby steps. I did much soul-searching and a bit of research. I wrote out the answers I could find. I went for a walk outside. I looked into programs that interested me. I made a phone call. I printed out curriculums and spread them out on the floor side-by-side comparing hours and classes. I showed them to Mike. I wrestled with the questions I could not yet answer. Because of some unanswered questions, I thought I wasn't ready yet.
The funny thing is, and I did not even realize it at the time, I did not check the application deadlines. One day Mike checked the application deadline of the program I had zeroed in on. It had passed. But also, they had extended it. We looked at each other wide-eyed. Mike was actually the one to enter my name into the application form and hand it off to me. Why did I need his encouragement and prompting for something I truly wanted? This decision was like a groundhog, snoozing underground for the long winter and only peaking her head out for the start of Spring.
If only I had found "The Next Right Thing" book by Emily P. Freeman before that decision slept for so long in my soul. Still, its not as though I am done with all of my decision making. Today is a new day and there are a million more decisions to make. Let's make them in ways that are good for our souls.
Let me tell you a few things (but not everything) about this little black and white book that has added brilliantly to my decision-making process. Emily gives us some insight to making soulful decisions in all of my favorite ways: a bit of storytelling, a solid principle, a little prayer, and a few practical tips. Oh, and a dash of Dallas Willard.
a bit of storytelling
Emily tells a great story about her husband John exploring a decision to change careers. She explains how they looked for arrows to lead them during this time. Arrows are faint visons of things before they come to be, a little out of focus just yet. For Emily and John, there were arrows of grief and desire. In my own Seminary decision, there were arrows of desire and invitation.
a solid principle
Be a beginner.
This is what took me so long to make my Seminary decision. I wanted the whole shebang to be clear - when to go, where to go, what to study, even what I would do exactly when I was done.
Since when does our God move like that with all of the answers before we get there? Not with Abraham whom He told simply to go and God would let him know when he got there. Not with Joseph to whom He gave dreams and years before they were fulfilled. Not with Ruth whom He took far from her home to find her kinsman redeemer in a wheat field. Not even with Jesus. I am still learning to move without all of the knowing I would like to have. It is better to know that Jesus goes with us.
a little prayer
You may know how much I love writing little 40-word prayers about ordinary things in life. Emily ends each chapter with an honest prayer. Here is a snippet of the beginner's prayer,
As we face those who doubted us the most, (ourselves!)
remind us how you stand in front of us, behind us,
beside us, and within us.
When we look for courage elsewhere, remind us to look to you instead.
You have all the gumption and moxie we need.
We accept our smallness in your presence.
a practical tip
If you are facing a big decision or starting something new, practice saying, "I don't know yet." If only I had been able to admit that sooner. When I finally said it out loud in my Seminary interview, it was a moment of freedom. Rather than saying I wasn't ready, my Seminary interviewer was not worried. I think she already understood the value of boldly being a beginner.
a dash of Dallas Willard
"Never believe anything bad about God." Enough said. Its sweet and brilliant Dallas Willard.
In "The Next Right Thing", Emily writes,
"The decision is rarely the point."
She challenges us to be better at both the decision-making process and the decision, but mostly in becoming who God intends us to be while making decisions. That includes doing the next right thing in love. No next right thing is too small. That is its beauty. I am already using this principle in my everyday life. Yesterday, my next right thing was to get on a jet airplane to visit family.
Today, my next right thing is writing to you and offering you this decision-making prayer to use in your own life.
a decision-making prayer
dear holy spirit,
we're listening to our heartbeat
we can be scaredy-cats,
waiting too long
or china shop bulls charging too far ahead.
may we value who you are shaping us to be
as we make decisions,
over the actual decision.
Written in Magnolia, Texas. Photos by Myquillan Smith.
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