One of my daughters, when growing up, had a difficult time making decisions. I can remember distinctly the challenge we had as a family going to get ice cream. We quickly learned to order first because if we waited for her to decide, the chances of the ice cream shop closing its doors before we ordered became a real possibility. The ice cream choices when I was a child were simple… chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. However, then some old chap named Baskin and his wife named Robin (I may have made that up) decided to add many, many, many, many flavors… including Bubble Gum (my favorite because you got ice cream and gum for the same price). Can you imagine a child looking at an array of ice cream, in every imaginable color and flavor and being asked, “sweetie, pick one”? Our poor daughter was in overload. I think her concern was wanting to make the right choice… hence the hesitancy. Sometimes we are like that… so many choices that we actually make none. Today the average person living in the United States is faced with more choices than ever before; they estimate that we actually make about 35,000 decisions per day. Imagine how many choices we have to filter through to make those thousands of decisions. I now better understand my daughter’s hesitancy.
The tee shot
I have often thought of making decisions much like a hole of golf. A par five hole is set up in such a way that an average golfer ought to be able to get the ball from the tee shot (1st shot) into the hole on the green with five well-placed shots. The golfer, upon reaching the tee shot, is given a small map that illustrates approximately where the green and hole are located since many times you cannot see the green or the hole from the tee shot. Therefore, you know generally where you are going but not much more. I liken this to decisions in life. You often have very little information as you are faced with a decision except for the general direction of where you are to go. The golfer takes the driver and hits it hard in the general direction of the green. That’s it.
BTW, the golfer will never make a hole-in-one from the tee shot on a long hole. This is important to understand in making decisions… manage your expectations; decisions are a series of processes and are never made in one shot. Once the shot is hit you progress to the next one. A good golfer is proficient in knowing the conditions that may affect his/her next shot. Where is the ball laying (sand, tall grass, short grass, water etc.)? Is there wind that may affect the trajectory of the ball? What does my caddy (advisor, counselor and friend) say? What club should the golfer use based on the information that they have? These are consistent with making decisions… knowing where you are, what resources you have and who is advising you. The process continues this way with each swing providing a little more information and a little less margin for error until you eventually find yourself on the green with the flag and hole visible. The golfer now has no margin for error, and all the information they need to make a successful putt.
Decisions are like this. The onset of a choice provides me a sense of direction as I evaluate the tools at my disposal and the conditions I find myself in. I take the shot… its directional remember. Clarity is missing regardless of how determined I am to make it to the “green”. Each stage of the decision brings more information, a renewed evaluation of the resources available to me and a realistic understanding of my situation until I now have all I need and can execute on that decision.
Today, we have more information available to us than we have ever had in the history of mankind (except for probably Adam and Eve) and, therefore, more choices. We are all becoming familiar with the concept of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and its capacity to “know everything.” The information creates choices which then can cause a level of anxiety in us as we desire to make the right decision, and all of this information confuses us, just like the ice cream store. I read an article that stated that though we are living in the Information Age, the real focus is on influence, not the information.
Finding a restaurant
Let me illustrate this. We live in communities where the choices of places to eat are plentiful. We can choose our restaurant based on location, price, type of food, occasion, dog friendly, romantic and outdoor seating. Therefore, let’s say that you want to celebrate your friend’s birthday by taking him/her out to a nice dinner. You search, “best restaurant for a birthday dinner” and you immediately get dozens of possibilities within a few miles of your house. Too many choices, what is a good friend to do? Perhaps you start reading reviews; you filter the selection based on familiarity, type of food or availability. The selection is still massive. You now call your foodie friend (we all have at least one foodie friend). Our foodie friend then makes a recommendation based on our criteria, and we promptly make a reservation and have the time of our life. The foodie friend influenced my choice. Information was not the problem, discerning the information was the problem.
The older I get the more I value discernment. I find that many times we can pride ourselves in our ability to process a lot of information. We have learned how to manage our lives through various techniques and tools. However, what is woefully missing is discernment. Discernment is the ability to value the information based upon certain core truths and values. We see this lived out when Daniel “purposed in his heart,” Joseph asked, “how can I do this great sin against God,” and Jesus says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
We live in a world where decisions must be made with a variety of choices that are given to us, and sometimes our level of anxiety and stress increases because of the enormity of the decision and the endless choices and possibilities. We sometimes rush our decisions to rid ourselves of the stress of the choices, or we analyze so much that we never make the decision. Where is the discernment?
Where are you?
I ask, “where are you in the process?” Are you at the tee shot of a new relationship or career choice? If so, swing hard and in the right direction… that’s it. Perhaps you are farther along, and you are on the fairway ready for the next shot. Perhaps you have made a couple of poor shots, and you are in the “rough” or “sand trap” and are getting frustrated. Remember, you have resources available that can guide you to getting back in play (the right club, the advice from a caddy, the past experience). However, wherever you are its important to be honest with your situation, evaluate your resources and then swing.
Where are you in your walk with Jesus? Are you just beginning? Don’t get frustrated if you don’t have all the answers? Perhaps you have been walking with Jesus for a while but made some mistakes and find yourself feeling lost or frustrate. Again, perhaps you know exactly what to do (you are on the green) and its simply time to execute (we call it obedience). Therefore, life can sometimes look like an ice cream store with so many colors, aromas, promises and expectations that we can’t actually enjoy the moment. However, God has uniquely equipped and provided each of us with discernment and resources that allow us to move forward and enjoy the place we are in. “Godliness with contentment is a great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more.