Friday, November 28, 2014

How Long Halt Ye?

There was a wonderful Sister in my mission who once told me, "Lately I've been doing this thing where I make up random spiritual gifts and then pray for them."  In addition to making me laugh, her comment struck me as a legitimately fantastic idea.  It reminded me of something George Q. Cannon said -- that we ought to pray and fast for the spiritual gifts we need.

Lately I've been praying for the gift of decisiveness.

I've always admired decisive people -- people who know what they want.  I tend to struggle with knowing what I want, and I often agonize over decisions.  A recent life experience got me thinking about all this, so I studied, and I've made some discoveries:

1.  Learning to make decisions is a heritage that goes all the way back to the garden of Eden.

It's kind of what mortality is all about.

God didn't make everything cut-and-dried for Adam and Eve.  He gave them options with consequences and required that they choose (See Moses 3:15 - 4:32).  Interestingly, He required that they choose without fully understanding everything about the situation.  This is something that paralyzes me sometimes -- feeling like I have to make a choice without all the information I want.  But I'm beginning to see that that's kind of the whole point sometimes.  Stepping into the dark.  Doing a trust-fall with God.  It seems to be pretty important to Him that we learn to do that.

He created "things to act and things to be acted upon" (2 Nephi 2:14), and as His spiritually begotten children we are at the top of the list of creatures who are expected to act.  "The Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself" (2 Nephi 2:16).  He gave us that.  It's a responsibility but also a privilege, and we have to (get to!) figure it out, because it's central to becoming like Him.

2.  Some things really don't matter.

There are a LOT of decisions that really don't matter very much.  More than we tend to think (at least in my case.)  In Doctrine and Covenants there are many instances in which the Lord gives directions like this: "These things remain with you to do according to judgment ..." (D&C 62:8), or "...then you may return ... as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me; only be faithful ..." (D&C 62:5).

I think the Lord puts the decision-making firmly in our mortal hands almost all the time, encouraging us to make decisions, act on them, and learn from the process.  When it comes to choices between equally good things, He's not secretly hoping we choose one or the other, eager to punish us when we mess up.  He's just happy to see us growing, moving forward, making things work.

And, frankly, there are details that probably don't matter much to Him.  Like, when Jesus forgave sinners, He said, "go, and sin no more" (John 8:11).  He didn't say, "go, and major in accounting, and marry your neighbor's son, and name your children Zach, Harry, and Lela."  The decision to "sin no more" is really important.  The rest, well, it's way more flexible.

3.  Some things really do matter.

And when they do, we'll have the direction we need.  Boyd K. Packer taught that we will never be allowed to make a wrong decision without being warned by the spirit.  Whether we heed that warning or not falls to us, but God is NOT trying to confuse us.  Ever.  "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace" (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Also, He's made it pretty clear what is most crucial by giving us commandments.  As long as we are aligned with those, we can be confident we are doing right things.  Love God and His children.  Obey God's laws.  Focus on His approval above anyone else's, and remember that charity never faileth.  If those types of guiding principles don't make one of two good choices more obvious, the decision is probably a win-win.

This idea is expressed in 1 Kings 18:21: " long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him."  That matters.  Don't sweat the rest.

4.  God does not intend for fear to be a factor in decision-making.

This is one of the most repeated messages in all scripture.  "Fear not" (this two-word command appears at least seventy-eight times in the standard works).  "Be not afraid, only believe" (Mark 5:36).  "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).   "Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not" (D&C 6:36).

Fear can lead us to feel paralyzed.  And paralysis was never God's intention for us.  In fact, paralysis is akin to damnation (the state of being damned, or stopped from moving forward).  If we are resisting decisions, we are being acted upon instead of acting.  Thus, a courageous decision to act in the face of fear is a very godly thing.

My grandma LaMyrl wisely told me once that sometimes the only way out is through.  At times, the decision-making atmosphere feels murky.  So we make choices and take steps forward and course-correct as needed and trust in God.  We press on with gratitude and creativity and initiative and resolve and we create something beautiful with each precious day.  Before long we see that much of the murk has cleared.

Whatever we can do to shed fear will dissipate the clouds around our decisions.  That being said, I want to clarify that I'm not a proponent of recklessness.  I think of decisiveness as a spectrum -- we want to be in the middle:

Reckless---------------------Thoughtfully Decisive------------------------Inert

Sometimes the right course of action is to wait; sit with something; let it percolate until the moment when the spirit says, "Go!".  But there is an important difference between confidence-based patience and fear-based immobility.

5.  There is something to be said for sticking to your guns.

Credit on this one goes to my roommate, who came home a few weeks ago after ending a relationship and proclaimed, "It feels really good to stick to your guns."

I love this verse in 1 Corinthians 14:8: "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?"  One element of decisiveness is refusing to be wishy-washy once we've thoughtfully chosen a course of action.  This gives confidence to all who are affected by the choice, especially ourselves.

"Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily" (Colossians 3:23).    It takes courage sometimes to not second-guess, but it feels good.  Charles Swift (my good friend's dad) said, "Make a decision, then make it the right decision."  We can't live our lives constantly looking back and wondering, "what would have happened if...?".  Let's have a little confidence in ourselves and in God that we are making good decisions, doing the best we can, and that the future is full of good, good things.  Because, honestly, it is.  Especially if we decide it is.  I mean, we get to create it.

So, your thoughts? How do we cultivate decisiveness?

1 comment:

  1. Here's a sort of funny quote from Elder Oaks when I was three months old about some things that don't matter much to God:
    “No answer is likely to come to a person who seeks guidance in choosing between two alternatives that are equally acceptable to the Lord. . . . Either answer is right.
    “Similarly, the Spirit of the Lord is not likely to give us revelations on matters that are trivial. I once heard a young woman in testimony meeting praise the spirituality of her husband, indicating that he submitted every question to the Lord. She told how he accompanied her shopping and would not even choose between different brands of canned vegetables without making his selection a matter of prayer. That strikes me as improper.
    “I believe the Lord expects us to use the intelligence and experience he has given us to make these kinds of choices.”
    Elder Dallin H. Oaks “Revelation” BYU Devotional, 29 September 1981
    Did you notice that in sections 60-63, he says "it mattereth not unto me" once in every section? That seems cool. But each one is surrounded by things that matter desperately, no? Love you.