I need to ask you a question – How do you go about making decisions?
Sometimes it’s complicated. For example, if you were to second guess your decision to book time at a Native American community, you would do it like this: “Hello. I’m having reservations about my reservation at your reservation.”
I’ll never forget the first English class I took at Clemson University in which the professor suggested that we consider an interpretation of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Less Traveled” that was different than I’d heard before. He asked, “Is the poem saying that Frost made the right choice because he chose to go a different way than most people had gone, or is he saying that either choice was equally as good?
I’ll read you the poem and you see what you think:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
What do you think? In the middle, Frost says:
Though as for that the passing there / Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.
What if either way would be ok? What if it’s less about choosing the right road and more about trusting God to be with him the on less familiar way and, therefore, worrying less about the decision?
We worry about making the right choice, but what if there can be more than one right answer?
In today’s scripture, Jesus tells us not to worry three times:
- V25 Do not worry about your life
- V31 Do not worry
- V34 Do not worry about tomorrow
The word for worry can also mean anxious, or divided, as in being pulled in two different directions. The first verse shows us that either/or scenario: You cannot serve both God and money. Sometimes the choice is obvious. Will God rule our hearts and our choices, or will our worry about money rule our hearts?
But it’s not always so obvious or simple.
Years ago I worked for a laboratory in California. One day the company was sold to a larger company. Before the sale, I was the assistant to the president. When the sale went through, the president left. About a year later, the president, now the head of a new company, called me and offered me a job as his assistant there. I said yes and gave notice at the laboratory. But the laboratory wanted me to stay, and they made a very enticing offer. The pay and benefits would be comparable either way I went. Both were offering new opportunities. There was not an obvious choice. I wrestled over the decision for days and days. When I talked with my pastor about it, he said sometimes there’s a right and a wrong answer, but sometimes both are equally good and God lets us choose. Have you ever had a situation like this?
Really when it comes down to it, this freedom to choose is often the basis for our anxiety. It would be easier if someone just told us what we have to do, but then we don’t like that either. So we live in the tension of options. Sometimes it’s obvious that there’s a right and a wrong answer, but sometimes there’s not. What if God’s call is for us to trust God’s love for us even in the uncertainty?
That brings me to this: What do you call a reptile who makes financially wise decisions? An INVESTigator!
Romans 12:2 challenges us to let God transform the way we think, and then we will be able to see God’s will for us. We often talk about that like it’s an instant answer, but what if that transformation takes time, and we have to trust God in the meantime, trusting that God will show us what we need to see when it’s time? Like the flowers in verse 28 of our reading, to simply be still before God.
Of all the choices that we have to make every day, it might be that the most stressful choices are sometimes about what to eat and what to wear. How many of us here spend time debating over food and clothes? One solution is to eliminate the options. Have you noticed that many TV or movie characters always wear the same thing? Every once in awhile one of those shows will give us a view into the character’s closet and we see that they have ten suits that are exactly the same, ten shirts that are all the same color, ten pairs of the exact same shoes. The only decision to make is whether something is clean or needs washing. Simple.
For some people, the worry is about whether they will have any clothes to wear or any food to eat. Some of us may not relate to that dilemma so much, but thinking of it in those terms helps us to see that Jesus is encouraging us to trust that God will provide.
He says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” (Matt 6:33)
Seek God’s kingdom. What and where is God’s kingdom? God’s kingdom is anywhere that God’s love rules in our hearts. The kingdom of God is eternal. Love will remain, even after the lilies fade and the grass dies.
When we can trust that God will provide, we are more willing to share what we have, and that means that we can become God’s provision for someone else. The reality is that not everyone has enough food to eat or clothes to wear, but the more we are willing to trust God and share what God has given us, the more we can help others to not have to worry about food and clothing.
Do we still worry? What are some of the things we worry about?
One way we seek God’s kingdom and trust God’s righteousness is by being willing to acknowledge our worries. When we keep them hidden, they fester and grow, but when we write them down or say them out loud, whether to God or to a trusted friend, they become less scary.
Many of you know that the church I was pastoring in Galveston had an arson fire that essentially destroyed all but the shell of the building. In recovering from that, there were lots of decisions to be made, but the biggest one was whether or not to rebuild that sanctuary. While we were still in the middle of that quandary, I went to a leadership retreat where one of the speakers asked us to consider some decisions we were needing to make and the possibility that there could be more than one right answer, and then he gave us some tools for imagining what the different possibilities might look like – in essence, to spend some time asking ourselves, “What if we did this?” or “What if we did that?”
So I, in my pondering, considered, “What if we rebuild?” or “What if we don’t?” I had all kinds of ideas for rebuilding, but all I could see in my mind about NOT rebuilding was a black hole. Looking back, I think that was partly because our presbytery executive at the time had said that he thought rebuilding was the only way the church would survive. Was that the only way? Maybe. Or maybe not.
But as you probably know, in the presbyterian system, it’s not the pastor’s sole decision. It’s the session’s decision, and in matters of property, the congregation also has to be a part of the decision. So we had a town-hall-style meeting in which we gave everyone the opportunity to voice their fears and opinions. One of the big questions was, “What if we rebuild but then can’t afford to support the building?” It was a valid concern. A new building would cost more to insure. Insurance was a big worry, especially since their previous insurance wasn’t going to pay enough to cover the entire cost of rebuilding. So another big question was, “What if we can’t come up with the money to cover the difference?”
In the end, what helped them decide to move forward was a faith statement by one of the members at that meeting. That person said they wanted to trust God to help them rebuild, and that person’s statement of faith encouraged others to have faith.
Were there other outcomes that could also have been faithful? Sure. But in that moment it had become about choosing between trusting God or trusting money, and so the choice became simple.
It’s not always so simple. Sometimes when we need to find peace in the midst of the uncertainty, God has provided fidgets and rocking chairs.
This is a fidget. There are all sorts of different kinds of these now. This is one my daughter discovered. Its description on Amazon explains the concept quite nicely:
“Silent Fidget Stress Relief Toy and ADHD Tool. Promotes Focus and Reduces Fidgeting Actions.”
I use it when I need to focus. It helps me listen. One of the things about meetings is that it takes time for people share their ideas and opinions. It’s how we make decisions together. It’s one of the ways we discern God’s will together. And it’s important to listen. But it can be hard to be patient and listen, so I use a fidget.
Many of us listen and process thoughts in different ways – by writing or drawing, by walking or running, by knitting or crocheting. How many of us are pen clickers? Tappers or drummers? (If you raised your hand, talk to Rob after worship about joining our new fidget choir.)
A classic fidget is a rocking chair. You might already know the old adage that says:
“Worry is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.”
But listening to God and giving God our entire attention sometimes means we only feel like we aren’t getting anywhere, because instead of rushing off and getting busy, we’re stopping and listening and looking for and waiting on God.
Listening is hard. It’s why church is challenging for kids and kinetic learners. Maybe instead of just pews, we should have some rocking chairs.
There’s a Southern folk philosophy that says that all real problem solving happens in rocking chairs, often on the front porch, sometimes with some knitting, sometimes in conversation with a neighbor.
There was a moderator of the PCUSA back in 2015 named Heath Rada who asked presbyteries to put rocking chairs up front when he came to their meetings, and he invited people up to talk and ask questions in the rocking chairs.
How do you make decisions?
The reality of our lives as Christians is that seeking God’s kingdom looks and sounds so much easier during this time together on Sunday morning than it does when we’re out in the world living our lives, making everyday decisions. Don’t worry. God’s love goes with us into every moment of every day, as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and minds and soul and strength to help us listen and learn and grow and be transformed. God’s grace goes with us too.
What if there were an infinite number of possible ways to do God’s will in this world? To share God’s love in this world? And God is ready to bless every single one of them as we trust in him?
Which one will you pick? Thanks be to God.