The Art of Decision-Making
Making decisions is never easy. But we remember that our entire lives rest in God’s hands, the hands of a God who knew us “before I formed you in the womb”.
When I come to crossroads in my life, I sometimes wish there was a book that could tell me what to do. It seems that the more complex the situation, the harder it is to find the answers.Scripture often leaves me even more confused, my prayers become lost in myriad emotions and self-doubt, and the advice of friends and family ranges from well-meaning platitudes to the completely absurd.
In the end, faced with several choices, I take one and hope for the best. But it can feel a little bit like playing Russian roulette!
This is our human experience. Life does not come with a one-size-fits-all instruction manual that tells you what to do at each stage of life.
Even though all of us will navigate the bewildering maze of childhood, adolescence and hormones, most of us will leave home eventually and negotiate the rocky terrain of finding a life companion, a meaningful career and a place to put down our own roots, the answers to each of these milestones are as singular as our particular set of circumstances, culture, identity, personality and the age in which we live.
Ancient clans and tribes established patterns for community-living, and those who did not fit into the model were often banished.
Similarly, centuries of Christian rule regulated every aspect of domestic and economic life. On the one hand, these highly-controlled societies removed a lot of the anxiety of making life decisions; on the other, this came at the cost of personal freedom.
Fast-forward to today. In many parts of society, religion and close communities have lost their street cred, modern economies offer limitless career options (for those fortunate enough to get the necessary qualifications), allowing us to live just about anywhere in the world (if you have the right passport).
Added to this, the relativism which has permeated our culture tells us that there is no such thing as core values and that anything goes.
A recent high school survey in the US asked young people to choose from an array of 34 different gender categories (and I thought growing up was difficult)! This doesn’t make it any easier to make life choices. If anything, plotting your way through life seems like an unnavigable minefield!
Fortunately, we’re also the best-equipped generation to live in this bewildering new world.
We are more educated than our forefathers and have a far better understanding of our own human psychology. Access to the Internet allows us to encounter diverse world views and at the touch of a button, we can access experts who can help us to make informed decisions on anything from career paths to financial investments.
The Church is also an incredible resource. We shouldn’t be afraid to come to the Church with the deepest questions that lie in our hearts.Too often we fear condemnation, but the Church does not expect us to be perfect. It sets high ideals, yes, but they should be seen as something to work toward, not a score card of whether we’re good or bad people.
In particular, in this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis calls on the Church and its ministers to assume their “responsibility of helping [the faithful] understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them, something which is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Amoris Laetitia, 297).
The pope urges the Church to “avoid judgments that do not take into account the complexity of various situations”. Instead, he calls on its ministers to “reach out to everyone…to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community” ( 296).
But none of this replaces the role of personal discernment. Discernment is the gift of being able to recognise God’s call in each moment of our lives. It is not an easy process. Often it is a very confusing and unsettling exercise, but we need to have the patience to recognise that the best answers don’t come quickly.
Discernment draws on several sources: reflection on the Scriptures, the Church’s teachings, the advice we seek, and the voice of the soul (where the Holy Spirit speaks into the depths of our hearts).This does not mean that we can pick and choose our theology, adopting the teachings that suit us and discard those that do not. There is such a thing as objective truth, irrespective of what our age of relativism may say.
However, discernment is the recognition that we are on a journey of spiritual growth and that we use the faculties and resources available to us to make the best decision that we can. And this decision might not be final. There may be many opportunities in our lives to revise our choices, each time drawing nearer to God’s plan of love for our lives.
With each decision — good or poor — there are consequences, but those consequences are not there to condemn us or validate our correctness. The outcome of our decisions becomes an opportunity for grace and mercy, a space for forgiveness and reflection, a call to plunge ever deeper into the mystery of God’s personal love for us.
Making decisions is never easy. But if we remember that our entire lives rest in God’s hands, the hands of a God who knew us, the God who tells us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jer 1:5), then we can trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us to the best possible outcome:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).