Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Where are you on this spectrum? Fly by the seat of your pants? Or are you at the other end, with me? How can you know where you fall?
Which would be your response to the following question:
“Want to take a trip to Ireland?”
“Sure! Sounds great! Let’s go!”
“Maybe. Sounds fun, but when would we go? How long will the trip be? Where will we stay? Is that the best option for a destination? There are a lot of other places I want to see. Who will be going on the trip? Should we invite anyone else? How many people would be good to travel with? How do we decide whom to invite? Will anyone’s feelings be hurt if they aren’t invited? How much will it cost? Will the time and financial commitment interfere with other things I want to do? What’s it like in Ireland? Is it safe? Easy to get around? Would a guided tour be better, or plan it our ourselves? What are my options? If I don’t go to Ireland, what could I do instead? Exploring castles sounds fun, and seeing Kerry County. But, it will cost a lot of money, and involve leaving the country…passports, flights, yadda yadda. I don’t know if I want to go or not. I can’t decide.”
It’s crazy, isn’t it? The process involved for me to make a decision is often mind-boggling. From selecting dishes, to planning vacations, to choosing a house, to picking a restaurant for Friday night dinner, I usually travel hundreds of thought miles before reaching a destination. What’s even crazier is that my wanderings often don’t end up at a destination at all. I must analyze, weigh each alternative, look at every angle, list the pros and cons, deliberate, debate, doubt and second-guess, until I’ve exhausted every option and exhausted myself (and those around me, I’m sure.) The result: a state of indecision, trapped in the mesh of the myriad possibilities I’ve created in my mind, playing out various scenarios, trying to think through everything thoroughly.
The result: Analysis Paralysis.
Afraid of making a bad decision, it’s hard to make any decision at all. So immersed in analysis, I’m frozen in place.
Whatever I choose, I’ll have to live with forever. So serious. (See previous post.)
So afraid of regret, I end up with regret over my inability to decide. How ridiculous is that?
Anyone out there in cyberspace relate to this? Or are you all chilling down at the other end of the spectrum? Foot-loose and fancy-free? Making decisions willy-nilly. Anything goes. Just goin’ with the flow. Jumping at any opportunity. No scale must be tipped in a lengthy decision-making process. There is no scale.
I sometimes envy you. How can it be so easy for you? I sometimes dislike you. How can you simply say yes, without considering the consequences?
I suppose my cautious, over-thinking, planning, analyzing mind has saved me from some bad decisions. I suppose it has also made (what should be) easy decisions difficult, and given me grief. I suppose I have analyzed this topic enough to know a happy medium must exist that would be good to find. Or, perhaps not. Maybe I need to be this way to balance out all of you Yes-men out there. Someone has to keep things in order.
Are you stuck in Analysis Paralysis too? I wish I could help get you unstuck, but I think in the process we’d both come unglued. I will simply pass along what I have learned so far.
- Most of the things I agonize over won’t matter 100 years from now. We need to remember that. Many of the decisions that paralyze me won’t even matter 10 years from now. It would be good to remember that too. Dare I say a lot won’t even matter one year from now? Good to consider.
- We are missing out on the freedom we don’t see we have. We are so afraid of making the wrong choice, we may not see there is no single right one. Many times, there are multiple good choices. It’s ok. Just pick one. Even if it turns out there might have been a better one, it’s still a good one, not bad.
- No decision is a decision too.
If you are my polar opposite, I have but one request. On second thought, make that two.
1. Be patient with those of us who take a bit longer to come to conclusions.
2. Please help me decide when I should end this article.
Is here good?
Maybe there is a bit more to discuss.
Perhaps I’ve said my piece.
Have you seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? If so, the scenes that stand out in your mind are probably those of Jesus beaten, tortured, and crucified. Eleven years after the movie release, I still vividly remember the 39 lashes (although not all of it, because I eventually had to close my eyes.)
With footage like this in the film, you may be surprised to discover which scene was actually most memorable for me. Here it is:
The last few seconds of that clip. That’s what really got to me. Jesus. Lord of all creation. Savior. Creator. Lamb of God. The Great I Am. Being playful with his mom. Laughing. A bit of a jokester as he splashes Mary.
This nearly blew my mind. It was a whole new image of Jesus I had never considered or imagined.
I do realize the “invention of the table” scene is not taken from the Bible, but from Gibson’s creative license. It still made me pause and ponder.
Jesus sitting on the mountainside, teaching his disciples. Jesus calming the storm. Jesus turning over the money changers’ tables. Jesus in the temple, listening and asking questions. Jesus healing the blind man. Jesus weeping. All of these I had easily envisioned for years. But, Jesus laughing? Smiling in amusement? Joking? This was a side of Jesus I had never even thought might exist. It never really crossed my mind to wonder if Jesus, sinless perfection, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, would ever have a lighthearted moment.
While out fishing, would he enjoy a good laugh with Peter? As a child, would he spin the dreidel with the other kids? While walking with his disciples, would he ever make them smile with a joke, or was it all parables and prophecy? This was a whole new side of my Savior I didn’t know. Does it really exist?
I’m not sure. I do know we are created in His image, and we humans like to laugh, to smile, to joke around, to enjoy moments of amusement both big and small. Is this modeled after our creator? Does God have a sense of humor, as they say?
I do know picturing Jesus’ laughing sets me free in ways the images of his death do not. I’m not simply set free from sin, I’m free to enjoy life. Free to laugh too. Free to have moments of absolute silliness and it’s absolutely ok.
This is a freedom I need to enjoy more, and I don’t believe I’m the only Christian out there for whom this is true.
I recently realized I am a lot more serious than I used to be. Some of the freedom and carefree enjoyment of each moment has slipped away. Not that I never crack a joke or laugh. I can be goofy around you if I am comfortable with you. I seem to be silliest with my sister. That’s probably because making my little sister laugh has been one of life’s greatest pleasures for me since my 40th month of life.
At other times, though, it seems to have gotten harder to experience this freedom. So, I ask myself – Why so serious? I think I can understand why, and I suspect similar events and thoughts are stealing the laughter away from other serious Christians as well.
I suspect events of the past few years have added the seriousness to my disposition that I don’t much care for. My father passed away, adding sorrow and a renewed sense of our limited time. My close friends have experienced some serious life struggles, causing me to realize a need for greater intentionality and deeper conversations and relationships in my friendships. My husband and I became group leaders at our church, adding a weight of responsibility for the discipleship of others.
Added to these events is the knowledge that people around me all day long are not following Jesus. They don’t know Him. If I accept the whole kit and caboodle of Christian beliefs, that means these people are on the road to hell. Fellow commuters in the cars next to mine. Coworkers at nearby computers. Shoppers in line with me at Walmart. Members of my family tree. Lost.
Add to that the fact that my time is limited. Before I know it, another 36 years will have passed and I will be pushing eternity. And that’s if I make it to the normal life expectancy. We all know, (at some level, even though we don’t like to dwell on it) that our time could be up any second. I’m not guaranteed tomorrow. This truth was driven home by a serious car crash in ’09 that involved me, my husband, and our SUV rolling over on the highway several times. It could easily have been fatal. Time is short. Maybe shorter than we think.
Heavy stuff. It weighs me down. There’s so much at stake. I feel so much pressure that there’s so little time and every conversation and every moment needs to be meaningful. I must be intentional with my time and efforts. At any moment, is there something else more important that I should be doing? A different conversation I should be having? I can feel that weight draining away the joy, the playfulness, the humor, and the lighthearted enjoyment of life in each moment.
I don’t think it’s healthy to be that serious. But, with all that I’ve mentioned going on in the world around me, it’s easy to do. It fills me with questions.
How can we be conscious of the world’s need for God, our limited time, feel the weight of it all, and still laugh? Is it ok to take things lightly? How can we not be serious?
Does Jesus model this? Can I still see Jesus laughing? Is that really his demeanor? Is it ok if it’s mine?
Am I too serious? Are many of us too serious as Christians? Do we take ourselves too seriously? Life too seriously? Make Jesus too serious?
What do you think?
What’s the healthy balance?
I apparently haven’t figured that out yet.
But I’m pretty sure I need to lighten up.
Do you agree? Is it true? Is greed good?
Spoiler alert! Things don’t turn out great for Mr. Gekko. I doubt Michael Douglas’s character would be a good role model.
In fact, another wealthy man, richer even than Gekko, offers a different philosophy:
One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. Proverbs 11:24
But, King Solomon’s words probably won’t make it to Hollywood. Oscar winners won’t likely be quoting it on YouTube. So, which do we believe?
Tangled up with pride, with a bit of gluttony mixed in, this deadly sin is a fistful of temptation. Its methods of pulling us in can be fairly sneaky. When we get sucked into Greed is Good thinking, rejecting the wisdom of Proverbs, its deadliness appears in three modes:
- My Praise
- My Pennies
- My Price
We want more than our fifteen minutes of fame. We want every literate person alive to read our works. “Let everyone see my name in print and be amazed at my talent!” our hearts cry. Our esteem soars when we receive compliments on our writing. We can’t wait to get that positive feedback on our latest piece. Of course, joy in a job well done is not all bad. Excitement over success is not either. It’s when the scales tip, and our personal praise is lifted higher than God’s, that things have gotten deadly. (Or maybe that’s just my heart, and I’m projecting. Don’t leave me alone out here. Am I the only one whose heart struggles with this? The only one who enjoys the personal praise?)
The other part of my heart, that which yields to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, knows it’s not all about me. Like everything else, our writing should be about God’s glory, not ours.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Not only could we be famous, we could be rich. Write that bestseller and watch the royalty checks roll in. What a life. Think of the house, the boat, the car, the clothes, and the mound of Little Debbie Snack Cakes we could buy with our author earnings. So much could be ours.
Honestly, the material possessions have never been too much of a temptation for me (other than the snack cakes.) But, a life of leisure – that’s a different story. I dream of having enough money that I can do whatever I want with my time. No more commuting, no more mortgage. I can spend my days at play, enjoying nice weather, writing whenever and whatever I want, sleeping when I’m tired. It’s not gimme, gimme, gimme stuff. It’s gimme, gimme, gimme time and freedom.
Let me do whatever I want, for my own pleasure. I doubt this is any less selfish. It’s still a less-than-biblical motive for money.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:3
I have been praying for God’s guidance and assistance as I pursue writing goals. I have to frequently do a heart check. What is motivating me to write? Do I only want it to satisfy my own passions? Am I writing for God’s glory, or mine? Ouch. That one hits home. I do pray for Godly motives. Searching my heart, I see the desire to share the Lord with others and glorify Him through writing. But, is this always the case? My score is less than 100% on that test.
The danger here is two-directional. We can either think we are too valuable for certain work, or we can believe our value is based on our work and what it earns us.
The first direction is paved with pride. “I’m worth more than what that job pays.” “I deserve better than this.” “I shouldn’t have to work my way up.” Thoughts like these keep us from opportunities to learn and grow and from opportunities to serve others. Falsely thinking we cannot afford to do anything “below” us, we hold out for the big breaks, even though these may never come if we don’t ride the smaller waves first. We don’t offer services for free to help someone because our time is too valuable. No pay, no way. In either situation, we are afraid we won’t be paid what we are worth.
I realize there are circumstances that call for discernment, and times when we do need to say no. It’s not unreasonable to desire fair pay, and everything we write does not have to be volunteer work in order to try to serve others.
The problem occurs when we base our personal value on the monetary value of our writing. If I don’t earn much, I’m not worth much. We mistakenly think our value goes up with our net worth.
In truth, our value with God is constant, and based on nothing we have done or can do:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
When we base our value in anything other than the Lord, we are believing the lies we are either telling ourselves or believing from the world.
We must steer our hearts a different way. 2 Peter 2:14 states “They have hearts trained in greed.” What does this training get us? Immediately following this statement, Peter describes them as accursed children.
What can our hearts seek instead of Praise, Pennies, and Price?
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
I hope and pray I do this. I don’t want to seek my own glory. I want to base my worth in the Lord. I want to be humble, and generous, and a good writer, and successful in my pursuits – all at the same time, all while accepting God’s will for my life. To accomplish this, I must be ok with never publishing a book if it never happens, accept the value I have in God’s love, and reflect Him to others rather than spotlighting my own glory.
I hope I can sing Francesca Battistelli’s words in a spirit of worship and truth, and honestly say:
I don’t need my name in lights
I’m famous in my Father’s eyes
Make no mistake
He knows my name
I’m not living for applause
I’m already so adored
It’s all His stage
He knows my name
He Knows My Name, Francesca Battiestelli, If We’re Honest, 2014
None of this is possible with greed guiding my way.
Some people eat to live. Some people live to eat. I’m a card-carrying member of the latter crowd. Yes, as I sit here with the seven extra pounds I packed on over the holidays I recently ate my way through, I have no doubt about which of these people I am.
My pastor recently said “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” I believe that’s a good point. But has he met my life-long pal Deborah?
I admit the thought of continuous consumption of every sweet treat I can get my taste buds on has its appeal. What also sounds appealing is fitting through the front door of my townhome.
Fortunately, I also enjoy exercise. This wasn’t always true. I remember a time in my life when I referred to that demon as the “e” word. Now, aerobics and I have buddied up, and I enjoy a good sweat-inducing workout and the physical benefits I reap from it.
The result is a fairly healthy balance of input and output. I don’t look like Denise Austin, but I can live with that. The time I devote to early-morning workouts keeps me healthy and balances out the occasional unhealthy snack or party-binge on junkfood. I think I do ok. Without the output though, I could see the scales tipping, so to speak.
The same goes for writing. I doubt I’ll get much argument from a statement about the unhealthiness of overeating. Gluttony is bad. Got it. Why should gluttonous consumption in the area of writing be any healthier? If we can see that gorging ourselves on every meaty morsel will not end well for us, we should be able to see the same application for our craft.
Writer’s Gluttony shows up in three forms. Stuffing. Starvation. Stagnation. Interwoven like the latticework of Mom’s apple pie, these three create a pattern of gluttony that will leave a bad taste in your life.
How many times have we been told to read, read, read? If you’re going to be a writer, you must first be a reader. Ok. We read. Then we are told we must study our craft, learn from the successful writers around us, and research our market. Ok. We study. We read articles. We listen to webinars. We join the ranks of followers reading Michael Hyatt’s tips. We get our hands on a copy of the most recent Writer’s Market. We set up camp at Barnes & Noble, perusing every title in our niche. We research our next topic until we’re blue in the face. We gobble up everything we can about writing. We spend every spare moment consuming all we can, from literary classics to the latest John Grisham. We stuff ourselves so full of knowledge and resources that success should ooze from us like the juices of a well-basted Thanksgiving turkey.
The problem: Now our stomachs hurt. We are bloated beyond belief. We munched on tales and tips, consumed columns and critiques, and swallowed more self-help than we care to admit. And now we’re sick on it. Why? All we did was consume. We never exercised to balance out the consumption. All input. No output.
As we take in from other wordsmiths, we should spin out some yarns of our own. What that looks like will be different for every writer. Maybe you start a blog. Maybe you write the short story that’s been nibbling at your brain for eight months. Maybe you compose and send that query letter. Maybe you stop procrastinating and start producing. Whatever the step, you end the gluttony by getting into a healthier cycle of consumption and production.
This probably won’t be easy. A habit of eating is a lot easier to form than a habit of exercising. It’s work. Work can be hard (although enjoyable too.) Take this Saturday afternoon I am currently enjoying for example. The easier thing is to cozy myself up on the couch and devour a book. The harder thing is to crack open the laptop and bang out an article. I decided to devote a chunk of the day to exercising my own writing skills. My balance? While consuming a turkey sandwich and some cantaloupe around noon, I read a few pages of Stephen King’s On Writing.
Other deadly sins may try to jump in this battle. As you struggle to produce, gluttony’s pal fear may float to the surface. The key is to do it anyway. Keep putting things in and pouring things out. Lots of it. If it’s not all good, that’s ok. Think of it this way. If you vomit out enough stuff eventually you might discover something worth cleaning up and keeping.
The key is to break the cycle of gluttony. Stop cramming it all in your little notebook and start filling someone else’s.
With this last thought in mind, we can avoid gluttony’s second shape.
If we are consumed with gluttony, we take, take, take. We are selfish. We never give. While we gobble up everything we can, we leave others starving.
We are busy meeting our needs (or what we think our needs are) and forget the hunger of others. Where would we be if the writers from whom we are consuming never gave? We need to put some morsels out there for others to sustain themselves. This could take the form of simply writing that book or blog, or pouring into someone on a more personal level. It is likely God has put something in you that no one else could give, based on your unique talents and experiences as a writer. Don’t deny the world of what you have to offer.
Maybe it’s helping a friend with a cover letter for a dream job. Maybe its composing a pro bono article for your church website or local nonprofit organization. Maybe it’s reading a book to a child, or teaching someone how to read. Maybe it’s offering to edit your neighbor’s book. Maybe it’s publishing a book that will have a great impact on its readers. The opportunities are endless. The point is to not be consumed with our own input and instead focus some time, talent, and energy on the input of others.
The formats vary, but the results are the same. We fight off gluttony in ourselves and fill others in the process. Starvation stopped.
As we produce in addition to consume, we not only avoid stuffing ourselves and prevent the starvation of others, we also avert gluttony’s third shape – stagnation.
Mosquitoes, malaria, and the mata mata turtle.
These thrive in stagnant water.
While I’ve come across many small cute turtles, and others so large they were awe-inspiring, the mata mata falls into neither of these categories. In fact, I have read (as part of my healthy consumption-production cycle) that South Americans call unattractive women mata matas.
My point? Stagnation produces some fairly ugly and unpleasant things, and gluttony produces stagnation.
If we don’t get away from gluttony and move toward a healthier pattern of production, we become stagnant in our writing. Never stretching ourselves to create something new, we only continue to pour into our puddle of knowledge, with no outlet to drain out some of our own thoughts. The result? The rain keeps adding ideas to our little pond but no one ever drinks from it. We find ourselves with a cess-pool of ideas that never flow anywhere. They arrive at stagnation station and stay there.
We need to create some drainage. Stir the waters. Create a culvert. Start pouring words out of our pond. Pour into others. Establish a flow of ideas. Write.
If we never do, we end up bloated and miserable, with a case of malaria, surrounded by mosquitoes and mata matas.
Up next – Deadly Sin #7 – Greed – if I can spend enough of my unpaid time to write it.
God opposes it. It comes before a fall.
No, not that.
Nope, not that either.
Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
This is the deadly sin that set us in opposition to God, reigns in our hearts, fills us with sin, and takes us over the cliff.
Pride can interfere and take us off track in every area of our lives. How does pride bring about the fall of a writer?
“I’m pretty smart. I can do this. I don’t need their advice. They can’t help me. I couldn’t possibly learn something from them.”
“Why would I want feedback? I know what I should write, and I know how to write it. I don’t need anyone to review my work.”
“Just because they have two decades of experience doesn’t mean they know more than I do. I have fresh ideas and talent. They should be listening to me.”
“I shouldn’t have to go through all this work. Can’t they just accept my writing as the brilliance that it is and print it?”
“Ask for help? That’s ridiculous. Everyone is busy with their own stuff. I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Offer help? My time is too precious. They will figure it out or find someone else who has more time to spare.”
“Here is my plan. I am determined to carry it out. I don’t care what it takes. I don’t care what else God might have planned. I can do it, and I will.”
Perhaps some of these thoughts are exaggerated. Perhaps not much. Do any of them sound familiar? I must admit they do. They couldn’t have flowed from my fingertips here if they hadn’t crossed my mind at some point.
Since pride traces it’s roots all the way back to Lucifer, I doubt I’m the only one who has experienced these prideful ponderings.
We think we can do it on our own. We won’t listen, seek counsel, learn from others, or humble ourselves and ask for the help we won’t admit we need. For the perfectionistic pride-filled like me, it means not wanting to admit we couldn’t figure it out on our own, or that we tried and failed and now need help to get back on track. Or, we do only that which we feel is profitable for us. Time, effort, finances, editing skills – all are focused on our own agendas and never spent on others’ needs, for we are pridefully convinced we are somehow more important than others. We make ourselves God. Such hubris.
Why can’t we simply admit our imperfections, our need for others, and our need for God? It is because we are standing on a mountain of pride, unaware we are teetering on the edge.
What can we do to step away from that ledge? How do we get off this prideful path? We have to head in a different direction, for a different location to set up residence.
Humble yourselves before the Lord,
and he will lift you up. James 4:10
We can’t do it on our own. In fact, we can do nothing without the Lord. We may think we have it all together. Everything is perfectly in place, and we think we look stunning as we catapult blindly into the ravine.
It is when we are willing to admit we are imperfect, we don’t know everything, we aren’t capable of doing it all, and that we need God to do anything, that we have climbed down off that mountain and humbled ourselves before the Lord. It is when we can see others as not less important than us, but more. It is when we value them as we should.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
As Jesus modeled:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
We know that we will be blessed when we follow this example.
God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. 1 Peter 5:5
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. Psalm 25:9
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. Psalm 149:4
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2
How can we follow these commands, receive these blessings, and practice humility as writers?
- Admit our need for the Lord in all things.
- Acknowledge our need for others.
- Put others before ourselves.
- Pray for the following to be true of our hearts, as David prayed:
My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
As we place our hope in the Lord, as we quiet ourselves to humbly accept our child-like state of fragility and need, as we admit we do not and will never know all, as we model Christ’s love for others, we can put off pride and put on humility.
Up next – Deadly Sin #6 – GLUTTONY – if I can stop eating long enough to write it.