When my oldest daughter, Laura, was in high school and thinking about choosing a college, she was anxious about the process. She had a first choice, of course, the school she really liked, but she worried a lot about getting accepted there and wondered what she could do if she were rejected. Where will I go? she wondered. What does God want me to do?
It reminded me of a time when I wrestled with my own indecision over what career I would pursue. I fervently prayed to God for direction and was frustrated to the point of tears. I wanted a clear sign. Just tell me what to do, God, and I'll do it, I prayed. Show me Your will.
The response from heaven? Silence. Sometimes, it seems God isn't all that interested in giving clear and obvious signs, especially when we demand them of Him.
Our children will face similar big decisions, wondering if God has a direction. We can help our kids navigate life's crossroads by teaching that there are very good reasons God seems to be giving them the silent treatment.
Door number whatever
There's an old television game show in which contestants tried to guess where the "Big Deal" was hidden behind one of three doors. I think young people often see big decisions in a similar way. They're very interested in the big prize — the best school or job, the perfect mate — and they bring God into the decision not because they are genuinely seeking His direction, but because they just want to find the "right" door. When decisions have potential for a big payoff or a big downside, they want to be relieved of the anxiety of making such a consequential decision. Give me a sign, God, they pray. Help me find the Big Deal.
We must encourage our kids to avoid this pressure of always seeing life's choices as being behind the right or wrong door. In most situations, how we go through the door matters more than which door we go through.
This doesn't nullify the importance of seeking God's will. We often get hung up on possessions and circumstances, seeing God's will in these terms. But God is primarily interested in what kind of people we become. His real intentions for our lives are a life of holiness and blamelessness before Him (Ephesians 1:4). God longs for everyone to become people of excellent character and divine love. Help your children recognize that God's primary will for their lives is the person they become, not the circumstances they inhabit.
Uncertainty builds character
I'll sometimes ask parents, "Would you want your kids to always just do whatever you tell them? Wear these clothes. Date this person. Go to this school.' "
Some parents jokingly respond, "That sounds great." But they soon see my point: Persons of excellent will, judgment and character are formed by having to make their own decisions.
Sometimes Christian communities are more like Christian bubbles — comfortable and convenient. It's easy for kids to develop a belief that if they're following and trusting God, they deserve a successful life that doesn't include anxiety or pressure, a life where they needn't face the discomfort of not knowing what to do next. But our God is not a helicopter parent, swooping in to remove inconvenience. He is actually quite comfortable with having people travel the wilderness, enduring all kinds of uncertainty as they wrestle with a decision.
Sometimes we'll ask heaven for direction, and it seems like God is saying, "I don't care." That doesn't mean God doesn't care about us. It means that God cares more about spiritual growth than about colleges and cars and careers — which is of course what we would expect from a truly loving God.
God is in the character-formation business, and there's no better path to character formation than having to live with the consequences of our decisions. Sometimes it's painful and uncomfortable. But this is how we grow.
Roots in wisdom
Scripture doesn't instruct us to seek God's specific direction. Instead, Scripture tells us to seek things like His truth, His light, His wisdom. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5). God is in the business of equipping us to make decisions, not make them for us.
When my kids pray for God's will in a decision, I tell them not to expect a supernatural postcard from heaven. Yes, God can work that way. Sometimes He has specific assignments — like Moses taking on Pharaoh — and God makes those missions clear. But much of the time, wisdom itself will help us know the right course — if there actually is a "right" course.
We must also help our young people avoid turning our discernment of God's will into a very individualistic, self-focused thing. God leads people individually but also corporately — giving guidance and wisdom to the body of believers. I've encouraged my kids to find a few wise people in their lives who love God, who know them well and are willing to speak the truth. And to get together with them on a regular basis to ask and answer questions: What makes you feel alive? What are you good at doing? Why would you think about doing this? Why would you not? Kids can better discern the will of God with trusted mentors.
A lack of a clear sign from heaven regarding which door to choose does not mean either God or someone else has failed. On the contrary, it is evidence of God's love for us: He knows we mature more from having to make a decision than if we were to get a clear, commanding memo from heaven.John Ortberg is an author, speaker and senior pastor of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California.