Would You Like Broccoli or Carrots? The Burden of Choices

Paralyzed by Decision-Making and Worrying About What to Do

Juliette Alvey / 4.12.21

Being a child of the ’80s and ’90s, I was bombarded with messages of optimism and self-esteem boosters. In kindergarten, we were preemptively labeled the “Smoke-Free Class of 2000.” There was a lot of hope for our generation: You can be anything if you put your mind to it. Reach for the stars. The more you know. And by the way, no pressure … And with those positive messages came a benefit that I have actually come to dread: Choices, lots of choices.

I have always prayed a lot about my choices. God, which college should I go to? What do you want me to do with my life? What should I major in? Who should I marry? What job should I take? Etc. I can look back at those choices and see how God guided me, but when I’m in the midst of making a decision, I forget (or ignore) all of those times, and panic sets in.

Choices are (apparently) good because they indicate freedom to choose what’s best for me. I have power over my own destiny. But what if I don’t know what’s best for me? What if the possibilities are so great that I am paralyzed by the decision-making? What if I choose the wrong thing? Or what if I choose one thing and then realize that something else would have been better? The burden of choices is heavy.

But I am realizing, after many years of carrying this burden, that the weight is much lighter than I originally thought. Here are some reasons why:

1. Our options are much more limited than we think.

My husband and I are currently house-hunting, which, as anyone knows who has ever purchased a home, can be very stressful. We created a list of “must-haves,” “really wants,” and “would be nices,” and to be honest, creating that kind of list creates in my mind the image of a dream house that does not exist. We are limited by how much money we have, what area we want to live in, what kind of street it’s on, how many bedrooms it has, etc. Oh, and the biggest limitation — what house is on the market at just the right time for us to make an offer. And the biggest-est limitation — the ability to outbid everyone else making offers in this crazy market. So now my choices have gone from endless possibilities to maybe three or four houses in our entire town.

In some ways it’s all pretty discouraging, but in other ways it makes it a whole lot easier. It reminds me of how we give children choices. We do not say, “Would you like some vegetables?” We say, “Would you like broccoli or carrots?” Maybe God uses this same technique.

2. The Holy Spirit is with us and daily guiding us.

We cannot have a discussion about choices and not talk about the very real importance of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God has accomplished everything through his son, Jesus Christ. It is finished. But our lives here on earth are yet to be finished, and God does not ignore that fact or leave us alone. Jesus promises to send a “Counselor” to be with us forever — “the Spirit of truth.”

How does the Holy Spirit guide us? For me, it’s prayer, other people, and opening and closing doors. This makes some of us nervous because it feels so subjective and difficult to explain, but even though he is a mysterious part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is living and active.

God does not always speak to me as clearly as I would like, but I trust that he will open and close doors. We recently made an offer on a house that met many of our must-haves, but it was not accepted, which means that God has different plans. Sometimes the worst options are already eliminated, as when parents install safety gates and socket protectors for toddlers. Or when a parent yells “No!” as they see their child reach their hands toward the roaring fireplace. Job opportunities fall through, breakups happen, and travel itineraries get blown up by a pandemic. Paul speaks of plans in this way, too, when he tells the Romans that he has wanted to visit them many times, “but [had] been prevented from doing so” (Rom 1:13). So often our decisions are made for us, which might sound like less freedom, but it’s the opposite.

3. God has chosen us to be in his family and his kingdom. He has already accomplished everything necessary.

In the big picture, there is nothing we can add or subtract by our good or bad decisions from what God has already promised to us. This does not necessarily make decision-making easier, but at least we know we can’t completely mess everything up. God reminds us of his big plan, and this takes the pressure off of our individual plans.

Before we heard back about our bid for the house, I was kind of a wreck. After a night of waking up with my heart racing and my mind telling me, “Don’t do it! This house is all wrong for you! What if there’s something better out there?” I woke up and opened my Bible and prayed. I was hoping for a yes or no on that particular house, but instead God directed my attention to what he wanted me to hear, and that was his promise of an eternal home with him (through the words of 1 Peter 1).

At first, the words in 1 Peter sound like bad news. It is a letter addressed to “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout …” (v.1) Strangers? Scattered? Ugh, that’s not what I want to hear when looking for a stable and long-term home. Then reading on, God reminds me that we are to “… live out [our] time as foreigners here in reverent fear” (v. 17).  We are not at home in this life, and at first this sounds like a curse, not a blessing.

Then I realized the good news: We are not at home in this world because our true home is an everlasting home with God! He does not remind us that we are strangers in this world to make us feel sad or scared, but he does so to remind us where true hope comes from. True hope does not come from a home that has a “newer roof” and “updated windows,” but rather, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (v. 4). We are limited by what we can purchase on this earth, but the home God has prepared is inherited (free!) and will never perish.

God’s kingdom is forever. Some people will use that to say, “Therefore your decisions are really not that important compared to God’s bigger plan.” But this isn’t a comparison: we are not competing with God. It does not diminish the importance of our big decisions here on earth but rather binds them up in that bigger story. Though we walk in a garden of forking paths, they all somehow lead to the same place. Realizing that it’s God’s kingdom that I am living for — and not my own little personal dominion — I see that God will somehow use these decisions for his glory and for his greater plan. And that (not optimism and more choices) actually does take the pressure off. It’s in his hands!

Choices have always felt so overwhelming to me, but God has already chosen me in Christ to be his child. He gives me choices like “broccoli or carrots,” and then gives me the presence of his Holy Spirit. What appears to be less freedom turns out to be a blessing — even if that new house is more of a fixer-upper.