My 3-year-old daughter, Zion, is learning about choices.
My family and I checked out Beckley Creek Park for the first time last week, and when we arrived, I asked Zion “What do you want to do?”
The problem is, she’s used to smaller parks where you really have only two decisions: swing or slide.
Her blank stare looked like she was saying, “Are you serious? I’m 3.”
Here, she could not only swing and slide, but climb nets, go on monkey bars or balance on the walkway. She could even walk on the trails, explore the creek or pet dogs other park visitors were walking.
Zion also must make a choice when it comes to potty training. Her reward for successfully going to the bathroom is typically one Skittles candy, but we recently bought jelly beans to be festive for Easter.
Rather than five Skittles flavors to choose from, there were now an uncountable amount of jelly bean flavors (for a toddler). It felt like I could have eaten the entire bag by the time she made a decision.
She ended up cheating the system by stealthily grabbing more than one jelly bean and stuffing her face before I could stop her.
The paradox of choice
In life, we can’t always cheat the system. Certain situations require making one choice in the midst of many, and the consequences are crucial.
Sometimes one decision feels like it determines our destiny. One location to settle down. One house. One career path. One spouse. One car. One religion.
American psychologist Barry Schwartz calls this “the paradox of choice.”
In a TED Talk, Schwartz states that freedom of choice is a good thing, but it’s a two-sided coin.
He says infinite decisions ironically end up imprisoning us in two ways:
1. Infinite possibilities lead to increased paralysis. We’re not sure what choice to make because there are so many options and outcomes, so we choose not to choose.
2. Added alternatives lead to decreased satisfaction. Once we make a decision, we second-guess ourselves. Was that the best or just a good decision? Our expectations heading into the decision were so high, we feel less content afterwards.
These are just some of the areas of life with seemingly infinite options. (Viewer discretion advised: the following list is not meant to be exhaustive): Hallmark cards, coffee creamers, movies, breads, cell phones, churches, Christian books, books on marriage, restaurants, Mexican restaurants, workout equipment, diet plans, cable networks and TV shows.
Many people have spoken up on the struggle of deciding in a world of unlimited alternatives.
Ironically, Gary Friesen’s book, “Decision Making and the Will of God,” is more than 500 pages.
But I don’t think decision-making is meant to be extremely extensive or theologically dense.
Black and white
I love what Pastor Louie Giglio says of living in God’s will. People will tell him, “I want to be in the center of God’s will.” Giglio replies, “Whether it’s three inches to the left or to the right, I just want to be in God’s will.”
It is freeing to know when we remember whenever the “will of God” is being talked about in the New Testament, it has to do with the character behind our decisions, not our decisions themselves. (See Romans 12:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 5:18, 1 Peter 4:2).
It is freeing to know God loves it when we live out His righteous principles rather than live within a particular place of residence (Proverbs 11:3).
It is freeing to know there is not one spouse in the vast sea you have to search for, but the spouse you marry or are married to is God’s spouse for you (Matthew 19:6).
When we think about making decisions, we immediately connect choices to wisdom.
This is important, but rarely do we consider choices in connection to our relationship as a son or daughter of our Heavenly Father.
Let me illustrate. My daughter, of all the possibilities at the park, loves the swing the most. I’ve learned as a dad that I’m most satisfied when she’s most satisfied. I hate when she’s bored.
Could it be that our Heavenly Father views it the same way? I’m not talking about comfortable Christianity that is all about making yourself happy, but I am saying that we need to be aware of the passions God has placed within us.
When we are using the gifts and skills God has given us, we are then positioned to magnify Him (1 Corinthians 10:31).
By the way, my daughter initially tried a bunch of activities at the park before finally settling on the swing.
Sometimes our choices are a matter of discovery, not epiphany. Our faith is a journey with the Father, not a one-time decision.
Make a decision
But at least my daughter made a decision. She’s farther along than most of us who teeter-totter time and time again (pun intended).
I can’t say it any better than Pastor Kevin DeYoung in “Just Do Something.”
He says, “So go marry someone, provided you’re equally yoked and you actually like being with each other. Go get a job, provided it’s not wicked. Go live somewhere in something with somebody or nobody. But put aside the passivity and the quest for complete fulfillment and the perfectionism and the preoccupation with the future, and for God’s sake start making some decisions in your life. Don’t wait for the liver-shiver. If you are seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something.”
Tony Nochim is a Staff writer for The Southeast Outlook.