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Wrestling with Big Decisions

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A teen thinks deeply as she sits on a park bench holding a hot drink
Teens shouldn’t fret when there’s no “burning-bush” answer to their life questions.

Years ago, when I was a young man trying to choose a vocation, I prayed fervently for direction in that big decision. I remember being frustrated to the point of tears. I wanted a clear sign. “God, just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it,” I prayed. “I don’t even really care what it is. I just want You to tell me what Your will is.”

Crickets.

This wasn’t the last time I’d face God’s apparent silence on an issue. Rarely when I have faced one of life’s big “which door” decisions has the choice been simple for me.

Having raised three children, and having met hundreds of other young adults wanting to seek God’s will for their lives, I believe this is a common issue. Teens wrestle with choosing electives or sports, selecting a college and major, whether to date someone and what job to take. Many pray earnestly over these big decisions, believing that God should have — and should give — the final word. But I believe that often these prayers are not fundamentally about seeking God’s direction, but about a desire that the decision itself will just be easier to make.

Indeed, for years after my “What should I do with my life?” conversations with God, I did not realize that what I had been actually looking for wasn’t so much “God’s will for my life.” What I was really looking for was a way to be relieved of the anxiety that comes with taking responsibility for making a difficult decision.

God is a door opener, not a celestial enabler. And as we help children wrestle with life decisions, I think we need to help them understand an important truth: God’s primary will for you is the person you become.

The apostle Paul says that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4). In other words, we must help our kids recognize that God’s primary will for their lives is not what they do or where they live or who they marry or how much money they’ll make; it’s who they become. God’s basic plan for our teens’ lives is that they become people of excellent character and divine love. That’s what words like godly and holy (which too often become religious clichés) actually point to.

Making decisions is an indispensable tool in the formation of excellent persons. A big part of our job as parents is not to just make decisions for our kids, but to help them develop the capability to make those decisions themselves. Can you imagine if we always had to command our kids’ life and decisions? (You may be thinking, That sounds like my parents, in which case you may need to see a counselor. Or you may be thinking, That sounds like a great arrangement! in which case your children should see the counselor.)

For parents whose desire is that their child become a truly good person, they will often insist that the child make his or her own decisions. Persons of excellent will, judgment and character get formed no other way.

I think the same is true of how God works to develop character. Indeed, God’s will for a person’s life will often be “You decide.” Sometimes you will ask heaven for direction, and God will say something that amounts to “I don’t care.” That doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about us. It means that God cares more about a person’s character than colleges and cars and careers — which is of course what we would expect from a truly loving God.

Don’t get me wrong here. Sometimes God really does have a specific assignment for someone — like Moses taking on Pharaoh —and God is perfectly competent to make this clear. When the burning bush is necessary, the burning bush will be there. But much of the time, wisdom itself will help our young people know the right course — if there actually is a “right” choice — in these big decisions.

A lack of guidance from heaven regarding which door to choose does not mean either God or someone has failed. Very often it is just the opposite: God knows we grow more from having to make a decision than if we were to get a clear, commanding memo from heaven that would prevent us from growing at all.

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