Decision Making: Tightrope, Field, or Playground?

It can be tough to make decisions, especially the big decisions of life. It’s even tougher if you have the wrong view of the process.

Here are three metaphors for how some people make decisions.

The Tightrope: Some people view life as a tightrope and each decision as an attempt to stay on that tightrope. You have to go to exactly the right college, find exactly the right job for you, and somehow find and marry The One (out of billions). Make a wrong move and you fall off the tightrope. Since doing everything perfect can be a little tricky, this can be an especially stressful way to view life. While secularists can view life in this way, Christians may be especially prone since we are (rightly) concerned with staying within the “will of God.”

The Open Field: On the other side of the spectrum are those that view life as an open field. Here there is only one rule: Do whatever you want. Boundaries are artificial constraints so get rid of them. Go to college, or don’t. Marry somebody. When that’s not fun anymore, marry somebody else. For a time this approach feels like freedom until you realize there really is a pretty solid constraint in life: Reality. On face value this doesn’t feel like a very Christian view but when you add “cheap grace” with the all-too-common Therapeutic Deism of our day you get something theologians call Antinomianism (anti-law): If it’s all about grace, it doesn’t really matter what we do, so we might as well do whatever makes us happy.

The Playground: Finally, let’s imagine a playground. Our imaginary playground has a fence, some posted rules, and a few different places to play (swings, merry-go-round, slide, etc.)

Fence: God gives us boundaries in life, like the 10 commandments. Don’t murder (or hate) is one boundary. Don’t commit adultery (or lust) is another boundary. Don’t worship idols (anything other than God) is another boundary. These boundaries keep us and others safe. They help us thrive.

Posted Rules: In addition to commands that tell us what not to do, God also tells us what we should do. Love God. Love your neighbor. Be generous. Take care of your family. Comfort the brokenhearted. Just like a playground is a lot more fun when kids are playing well together, life is a lot more fun when people treat each other kindly.

Places to Play: Within these boundaries there is freedom. You can go play on a swing, or a slide, or a merry-go-round. You can play basketball or soccer or kickball. You can’t cheat or steel or push but you still have a lot of freedom. God has provided us with a beautiful world and he has given us the freedom to enjoy it. If we obey God’s commands and align our values to his we find he has really granted a truer kind of freedom.

As you can tell, I prefer the playground metaphor to the other two. However, even this metaphor breaks down. The main problem with this metaphor is that the point of a playground is all about having fun and that’s just not the point of life. Fun is a good gift from God that we should receive with thanksgiving, but it’s not the point. Sometimes God calls us to make really tough choices, choices that may lead to less fun and not more, but that are still the right choices to make.

The “secret” to decision making, from a Christian perspective, doesn’t come from some personally packaged word from God that shows up on your door one morning. Instead, it comes from getting to know the commands of God, learning to value the same things that God values, gaining an eternal perspective of life, and then setting to work on the task before you, doing it with all your might for the glory of God.