Sometimes hard decisions sneak in slow and weighty and other times they flood fast and we’re grasping for anything tied down and solid. Either way we’re like a toddler in a tornado of a bedroom they have destroyed, overwhelmed by the sheer scope of things and we are unsure where to even begin.
Truth gets tangled up with opinion, emotion locks arms with expectation and we are paralyzed by indecision. Please tell me you’ve been here too, languishing in that lost land of making hard decisions, where it feels impossible to make everyone (anyone?) happy.
Above all you simply want to do the right thing, but right feels elusive when there are so many competing interests.
So how does one even begin to make hard decisions bravely?
I received the invite and was flattered. I didn’t see it at first, but this should have been my first caution sign – flattery. Not on their part, but on mine. Flattery, however natural, can impair our ability to make sober decisions.
It was a group of bloggers I prize, women whose work I value. They collaborate and support one another, encourage and pray for each another. It was a tight-knit group and I was invited to join them. What a great opportunity, was my first thought. And the tiniest butterflies, those ones that you feel for the first time somewhere around middle school, maybe even earlier, waved about inside of me.
Because it is fun to be invited, included, apart of.
I wanted to say yes for so many reasons, not the least of which, because it’s fun to say yes. Truly.
I liked these women, I wanted to support and encourage, to help and grow, be helped and be grown. I love everything about that. But I heeded for just a moment. And that moment reminded me to slow the butterflies, to pray.
So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed. Luke 5:16 NKJV
I responded with gratitude for the invite and bought myself some time. Time to pray, to think, to ask, to reflect. Time to wait out butterflies and think hard about reality – my priorities, my time.
Being able to say a brave yes as well as a brave no are both part of living courageously from our priorities.
In the practice of making hard decisions, I’m learning a sifting process – a method for sorting things out in a somewhat orderly fashion. Like that toddler in the tornado bedroom, once we begin to sort through the wreckage one decision at a time – work, family, education, health, serving, giving, all things living – and we line those up against our framework of priorities, the choosing becomes easier.
How to Make Hard Decisions
Build a framework
When that toddler walks into the messy room the work is unfathomable. He doesn’t even know where to start. But when we ask him to focus on one thing, to pick up just the blocks, he can do that. And then we move on to one more thing and then another, tackling the room just one thing at a time. Tough decisions can be tackled in similar fashion, but we must know what truly matters to us. So what are your priorities, specifically? (We’ve discussed that, remember?) If seek I to honor God, honor my husband and serve my children first, then my decisions, every yes and no, must be meted out through that framework.
Let flattery and guilt be your caution signs
Notice I did not say stop sign, but your caution sign, your red flag. Emotional responses, although natural, tend to cloud our judgement. Let the emotion or excitement drain down. Buy yourself some time and assess the decision in light of the framework you built earlier. Feeling guilty for honoring our priorities is a misplaced emotion and saying yes simply because we are honored by the offer is always a bad call. Be vigilant here and weigh those emotions for what they are.
Weigh opportunity costs
Stephen Covey says the enemy of the best is often the good. Let that one sink in for a minute. Hard decisions are usually hard because they involve competing interest – often good interests. But saying yes to something almost always means saying no to something else. Serving big will drain your energy, hands on parenting might mean a less tidy home, leading bravely comes with mental strain. We must acknowledge the very real costs of what we are saying yes to. Does that mean we should say no? Not always, but wise decisions involve evaluating the peripheral impact of our yes, as carefully as the offer we are saying yes to.
Never be afraid of the brave no
I love saying yes – to my kids, to that person who asked me to serve, to my husband – yes is just fun. But when I have my eyes on my priorities, no really does become freeing as well. Your no can be every bit as God-honoring as your yes, possibly even more so. Saying no can mean I prioritize my marriage. Saying no can mean I value my family. No might mean obedience to the path I believe God is leading me down. Those are all very brave no’s, potentially hard no’s, but no’s that provide freedom and courage on the other side.
Saying no rarely feels as fun as saying yes. Just as correcting a child is never as fun as rewarding them, both are still equally important to growth and maturity.
So I said no to the blogging opportunity. And two weeks later a different opportunity arose. One that was a better fit at this stage of my writing life and more inline with my priorities. And, more importantly, one that I wouldn’t have been able to say yes to had I committed to the earlier invite.
Hard decisions are never easy, but they can be made simpler when we have a framework for weighing things out and assessing what matters most to us.
Our greatest brave will always be to keep trusting God with all of it, laying the hard decisions before him in prayer and knowing confidently that he has been and will continue to be faithfully with us each step of the way.