Forty More Days, Day 34–On Making Decisions

Every evening I come upstairs to my home office, log into my computer and open up this blog site. I stare at the blinking cursor of death for several minutes–sometimes longer–and contemplate what on earth I’m going to write about. Today is not so different.

We are at the time of year at my job where everything is happening all at once. There are events to attend (or speak at) and all kinds of activity that happens at the end of a semester. It’s a time of great exhaustion for me, and in spite of my best intentions, I manage to get worn pretty thin right about now. It’s the perfect time to be experiencing the 4o days of Lent. And, in spite of my best intentions to write an original post, I simply don’t have it in me this evening. So Siri and I are going to choose a post from one of my previous Forty Days blogs.

I hope to have the energy to write an original post in the next few days and on into Holy Week next week. Finger crossed. Until then, please enjoy this repeat post. It speaks to something I’ve been thinking a great deal about lately: making decisions.

Forty Days, Day 35–Decisions, Decisions

The word “clairvoyance” come from the French words that mean “clear seeing.” How many times do we wish we could see clearly when we’re in the throes of trying to make a decision, particularly a major one? I suspect, however, that if we had the “gift” of clairvoyance life could conceivably be a whole lot less interesting. Throughout the course of my lifetime, I’ve made decisions that have perhaps defied logic, gone against prevailing conventional wisdom. Some of these decisions have had negative, unintended consequences and others turned out wonderful in a completely unpredictable way.

How often have you said something like, “If I had known how that was going to turn out, I never would have done it?” When I was younger I probably would have said that. Now as a near elder/crone, I would perhaps say with some measure of surprise, “Oh! That’s not how I thought that was going to go. How interesting…” I still have my moments of extreme self-flagellation when a decision I’ve made appears to go awry. I fuss at myself (“Wow, that was stupid–what made you decide to do that?”) and show very little compassion for who I was and what was happening at the time I made the decision. Under different circumstances with more, better, clearer information I might have come to a different conclusion and taken a different action.

“Do the best you can, where you are, with what you have, now.” Is a piece of advice I read recently.  It aligns nicely with what I’ve come to believe: there are very few “wrong” decisions, or even bad ones. There are the decisions that we make at a specific time under a specific set of conditions. On any given day we might have made different ones and had different outcomes. You see, I view my life journey as being guided by an internal satellite navigation system. If I am motoring along and my life GPS tells me to turn right and I choose to turn left, the System recalculates my route and, assuming I still want the original destination, while chart a new course to get me where I’m going. It might take me longer and take me a more circuitous route than I might have taken had I turned right when and where it told me, but in the end I’ll still reach my desired destination.

Over the course of my life I’ve made a series of left turns when I “should have” turned right, and as a result I’ve sometimes taken a variety of detours and workarounds that took me miles and miles out of the way. But at the end of the day, my internal GPS is guiding me toward my destination and I am the one determining what that destination is.

A few months ago I stood at a fork in the road that caused me to once again ponder another life change, a change in circumstance. In some ways, it was a simple decision. One pathway potentially led to a new and exciting opportunity with new responsibilities, increased authority and ability to effect change, greater rewards in a location where the cost of living was more reasonable. No brainer, right? But not so simple. The other path would at first appear to be rife with perils and pitfalls. Metaphorically it looked a bit like those creepy paths into dark woods where twisted trees and fog obscured all manner of dangerous things. But upon closer inspection this scary path also contained comforting and familiar people, places, and things and I was loath to leave. And the pretty path had its own particular hazards.

Eventually, I went with what my gut (and heart and head) was telling me to do: take yet another risk, move away once again from the comfort and support of beloved family to strike out in a new direction, and hope for the best. At the end of the day, all we really can do is trust ourselves and our higher power that if the decision we make today isn’t the “right” one, our internal navigation system will recalculate and put us back on course for our desired destination. When I have done this, I have found myself experiencing adventures and meeting people I never would have encountered if I’d taken the turn I was supposed to. And in some cases, the destination changed–it turned out I really didn’t need to go where I was going, but I didn’t know that until I got there. This is all very metaphorical, but I hope it makes some sense even to the more practical-minded reader.

A friend and I were chatting about this and about the 40 days reflection. She suggested that I write about how one makes decisions “when your hands are tied and you don’t have enough information…Surely Jesus had these decisions to make.” Yes, he did. And I found myself wondering how much Jesus knew about what was going to happen to him before it occurred. Did he know far ahead of time what was going to happen or did he experience its unfolding just before it happened? How much did he know in detail, and how much was vague? Was he “clear seeing” and knew what was in store for him, and how did it affect his decision making?

Even knowing what he did, whenever he knew it, he struggled with what he was being called upon to do. He prayed, as many of us so often do, that he might somehow be spared from what was going to happen to him. He might have known that he would go through with everything, knowing that it was for a greater good, but that doesn’t mean he was excited and pleased about it. In some ways for him there was no choice, no decision to make. Karl Jung said, “Free will is the ability to gladly that which I must.” I am not sure Jesus did what he did gladly, but he did it of his on free will. And after many hours of anguished prayer, during which he sweated blood and asked God for an out, once he accepted what was laid on him to do, he bore it with grace.

I may never be called upon to make the kind of agonizing decisions that Jesus and others have had to make: life and death decisions. I hope that whatever decisions I am called upon to make I can do so with calm, equanimity, and the assurance that I have done the best I could, where I was, with what I had in that moment. That is all there is. And so it goes.

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