by Davis Jones
I left my former job the first week of December. The moment I chose to leave, however, was back in August, at my sister’s wedding, tucked in the golden pocket of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Separated from my weekly pace at home, I could finally measure just how anxious I had become over work. I had exhausted my mind over how to better my situation for months, but until then, I had not decided one way or another. I was full of options, and frozen by indecision.
During this Lenten season, and this transitory period of my life, I’ve thought about what keeps me from making decisions among many options, not simply a few. Just because we can give up any of our creature comforts for Lent (re: pizza, screen time, unannounced Amazon splurges, more pizza) doesn’t mean that we will. Just because we know it’s time to evolve into a new career doesn’t mean that we’ll step forward. What prevents our convictions from becoming choices?
Decision paralysis is one. A chronic fear of mine is that, out of many options, I’ll choose wrongly, dooming me to reckon with that wrong choice for the rest of my days. I was the child who would fold into a sobby mess at the public library after my mom told me I could check out one book, and I needed to bring home five. My most effective form of fear management, then, was to not choose at all.
But Scripture tells us that fear and agape love — God’s unconditional, sacrificial love, and the love we’re called to reflect — are incompatible. “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment,“ the apostle John writes. “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.“ (1 John 4:18) How often do we withhold major decisions out of fear of punishment for the ‘wrong’ choice, when its consequences are born from a terrified imagination?
Fear does not cancel out faith, but fear corrupts when it causes indecision. If Scripture ignored leaders who were afraid at crucial points in biblical history, the Old Testament would read more like Reader’s Digest, and the Gospels would feel more like pamphlets. Moses denied God’s affirmation of his fitness to guide the Israelites. Mary was consoled by an angel to take heart. Paul admitted his fumbling deficiencies as a public speaker. Even Jesus cried out to his Father in Gethsemane, tears welling, to “take this cup away from me.“ The difference between these names and the innumerable others called to God’s staggering campaign is that they chose to choose — to act— in the grip of crushing fear. They decided against indecision.
One more thing, and I’m learning this, too: The Lord can’t bless a decision you haven’t made yet. All of the options in the world are empty if we fear to step into choice and trust that, through life’s tributaries, His Spirit will see you through.
In a short story from writer Adam Johnson’s collection Fortune Smiles, we read of a New Orleans doctor who runs a halfway house in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There’s a scene where she’s speaking to the story’s protagonist, a UPS driver who suddenly must watch after his young son from a previous relationship. “When it comes to things like [your] boy, you can’t ever bend,“ she says to him. “You have to choose him — then you have to be one hundred percent. Don’t think of it as making a choice, but obeying one. Determine what you want, and be obedient to that.“
May we lean into the courage of decision this Lenten season, one hundred percent.