Something about becoming a parent made me begin to question my decision making skills. Suddenly, everything felt much weightier. I could handle if my bad decisions affected my life, but as soon as I realized the life of another human was in my hands—well, I started to panic.
It started when I was pregnant—analyzing everything from the brand of pre-natal vitamins to take to the type of crib mattress we would buy. (It seemed ridiculous to buy top of the line, but what did that say about us as parents to want to purchase the cheapest mattress out there?)
But eventually the implications of my decision-making were farther reaching. Soon enough, it leaked into every other area of my life and not just child-rearing. Maybe it’s because as I’ve gotten older the things that need deciding are bigger.
Everything feels critical. Life altering.
That’s when I find myself tempted to relate to God as a magic eight ball.
God, where should we live? What kind of cars do we drive? What’s the best way to handle school for our kids? What the right schedule for our family?
These are the kinds of questions that drive me to prayer—to want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what, exactly, is the best course of action? How do I go about doing this, all of this—marriage, parenting, work, friendships, life—the best way?
I pray about it. I think about it. I lie awake worrying about. I talk about it. I ignore it. I circle back around to it, and pray about it again. All with one goal in mind. To make the right choice. To pick what, I believe, God want’s me to do.
The past couple of months it has all became clear in a way it never has before. My prayer life is at its best when trying to nail down the perfect course of action.
And lately I’ve started wondering if I’ve been doing it all wrong. For one, this way of tackling prayer incites a lot of fear. At least in my experience it does. Living like there is only one right way to call the shots from everything from vaccinating my kids to vacation destinations for the summer is paralyzing. I end up living in limbo because I can’t quite discern THE MOST PERFECT OPTION.
It puts a lot of pressure on me, the pray-er, on the front end, and not a lot of confidence in God on the back end.
In other words, in this approach, my prayers are loaded trying to discern what I think God wants beforehand, without taking into account God’s activity in the decision after the fact.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to know God’s best, or trying to figure out what’s the wisest. Seeking God’s guidance is a good habit to get into, because in many cases, there is right and wrong, wise and unwise. But there are also a whole lot of things that just are. And sometimes I think we spend so much time praying about certain decisions, thinking there is a right—when their isn’t— certain God’s most involved before we make the call, when we’re looking to him to guide our thinking, that we think afterwards we must be on our own. Not only that, if there are some bumps, hiccups, or otherwise challenging results, we think it’s because we didn’t choose the right thing. Because wouldn’t it be seamless if we picked correctly?
But what if we got it all wrong? What if a bunch of choices are not right or wrong, wise or unwise—but just are? And what if, no matter what we choose in these cases, there are going to be benefits to our choices—and complications? Wouldn’t that change the way we pray? Wouldn’t that make our prayers in search for a right and a wrong, wise and unwise, more meaningful, and our prayers for everything else, more relational, and less like a test?
What if our dialogue went from a panicked, “God, what do you want me to do?” to a trusting, “God, I just want you to be involved, now and later.”
A change in prayer posture makes for a change in our perspective. It makes prayer less of a word search for an answer we need and more of a conversation with a God who’s as accessible as he’s ever been—before we make a decision and after—and in whatever happens as a result.
We can stop beating ourselves up when the decision we make doesn’t go like we thought—because God is still in it. He hasn’t abandoned us because we misheard Him. And maybe we didn’t mishear Him at all. Maybe, life is just complicated, and no matter what we choose, even the wisest decisions come with some unforeseen bumps in the road.
Prayer is a complex thing. I am still trying to figure it out—what it does, what I expect from it and more. But I know this. I know if ultimately the point is to connect with God, to get to know His heart, than the point isn’t even the decision making to begin with. It’s to engage with the One who made me. Before I have to make a big decision. And after.
That means, I pray, I seek counsel, and then I bite the bullet. I make the call and know that the God I sought so earnestly beforehand is just as eager to connect with me afterwards. And that when I change my focus from choosing optimal circumstances to wanting to connect with my heavenly Father, no matter how it all shakes out, I’m going to feel a lot better. Less fearful. Less anxious. More aware of who God is and His role in the world. And more aware of who I am and my role in relation to Him.
God isn’t a puzzle to try and solve. Or a code to crack. He’s not trying to trick us when it comes to figuring out what’s best for our lives. He’s looking for engagement. No matter what we choose and no matter how things turn out. If we trust Him in deciding what our future looks like, why wouldn’t we trust Him to help us navigate whatever the outcome is? Good or bad?
He’s a good God concerned with our circumstances, but also so much more. Our hearts.