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Decisions, decisions

"Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known." - Jeremiah 33:3

I have a really great friend who has lived in the Washington, D.C. area for the last eight years now. He's been living and making a life on the outskirts of our nation's capital. A lot of good things have come from his time out in D.C. - the best thing being the gift of a lovely wife to journey with now for the rest of his life. Well, there is competition. My friend and his wife have also now been given the joy of a little girl.

There is much in their life to be thankful for, and they are gracious and grateful people.

However, in the last few years, a type of discontent arose in my friend and his wife. Having a child made them long for closer ties to family and for a more supportive community.

I knew about my friend's discontent. I also knew about his hopes, his longings. We all have such feelings at certain times - a jumble of hopes, fears, longings and anxieties. Often times, this jumble of emotions means God is bringing us to an important decision in our life - a fork in the road moment, and we have to decide if we should go left, go right, or maybe stay right where we are for bit longer. Decisions, decisions.

Sometimes it's a small decision. We want to be able to check the weather on our phone, so we add a data plan to our cell phone service. But, we wonder if it's worth $30 a month or if there's enough money in the budget. Sometimes, it's a bigger decision - i.e. buying a home, committing to a spouse or a church community. And these decisions can throw us into a sea of uncertainties and hopes - rising one moment to see new possibilities further ahead and then being submerged into the "what-if's."

My friend's decision is a big one: whether or not to move. It is not an easy one. If he does move, it will mean significant costs and risks - not just financial but emotional, psychological and even spiritual.

I have been really proud of my friend and his wife, though. Faced with this big decision, they committed to taking the whole month of June to pray, to listen, and to talk with others. This is the best decision they could have made. They have chosen to practice an ancient Christian discipline - the discipline of discernment: taking intentional time to receive counsel on an important issue.

The Quakers even made this one of the regular practices of their community, and the Quaker practice of a "discernment circle" has arisen and spread in recent years. The discernment circle is when someone has a decision to make and they bring the decision to a group of trusted, God-guided individuals. Then, in the process of an evening, the person lays out to his or her friends the decision and his or her thoughts and feelings. The discernment circle does not talk; they do not offer advice right away. Rather, they listen carefully, and if they speak it is to ask guiding questions that can help the individual move further down the road. Ultimately, the aim is to listen together to the Holy Spirit and to make sure that whatever decision is made it is made in peace and in integrity.

I have tried to provide some of that listening to my friend. It can be very helpful. However, it is not the only way we can get some clarity on an important decision. There are other helpful practices - including sustained prayer and ongoing reading of God's Word.

The key thing, though, is not the technique or the steps to making a good decision. It is the posture of our life. As Christians, we are invited to live our whole life in relation to God - to God's goodness, God's rule, God's will, God's plans for the world. This is why prayer, scripture reading and listening to the counsel of fellow believers can be so important. They are not the answer, but they serve as keys that help us unlock the door into God's chamber. And it is in God's chamber that we receive direction and clarity for our life.

My friend and his wife have decided to make the move back to Indiana. I am elated.

But, even more than that, I continue to pray that - above all - God's will would be done for my friend, his wife and his family. I pray wherever they land, that they would land with the same heart and mind that has taken them to this point: desiring to listen to God and to do what their Master bids them do. As Augustine said, if we stay close to the heart of God, all things will unfold as they should.



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