Life is a constant series of decisions. In our journeys we encounter crossroads at every turn, having to choose which way to go. Many of these crossroads leave little impact on our lives. Others are major crossroads that are life altering. With each decision, we have to say yes to something, which in turn means we say no to something else. Major crossroads are angst provoking for many people, especially when the choice of one road means they may never know what the other road might have held.
Major Crossroads: The Risks of Life
Life entails a series of risks that we must face. Every crossroad we come to entails risks that we must weigh because the way we go might set a path for our lives for some time to come. Time is the resource that we know is limited. We realize that we can never come back to the original starting point to make a different decision. No doubt, we can change our minds and make different decisions, but the time we’ve taken in the process is set in stone. We cannot reclaim it. A common experience I encounter is that I, people I know, and clients with whom I work desire someone to tell us everything is going to work out okay. We look for that person who can give us the picture that tells us the end from the beginning. Getting advice and feedback from people we trust is one thing. Wanting a guarantee is another thing all together. We desire guarantees because we don’t want to face the risks. The reality is that risks are inherent in life, especially if we want to pursue a life that is meaningful on some level.
So two things combine to make crossroads weighty things indeed. We say yes to something, meaning we have to say no to something else. Add to that we want to know that we’re making the right decision. I don’t believe that life is so arbitrary that we’re simply flipping a coin as we make our way through our existence. There are legitimate and good ways by which to make decisions. We can research, learn, and embrace those tried and true ways of making choices. What those may entail are another blog article. Nonetheless, even good decision-making practices cannot provide us with guarantees. There is truth in the notion that we simply have to use all that is available to us to make the best decisions we can, and then go with it. We have to let our decisions rest and see where they take us. We can neither get caught up in overthink or searching for ironclad guarantees. Overthinking and the search for absolute certainty will keep us stuck at the crossroads where we will never decide.
The Sinuous Paths of Life
Saying yes to things we hope to pursue can indeed be exciting. Saying no to pathways in which we’re also interested can produce both angst and sadness. There are many decisions we face that are not made up of cut-and-dry either-or decisions. There are nuances of interests and desires we have. The thought of saying no to some of those desires is truly painful. We simply don’t want to let them go even if we know we want to pursue a certain pathway. One thing I discovered in talking with so many clients and other people I know over the years is that when we choose a path, it is not necessarily one to which we are glued for our entire lives. In terms of career, many people have found ways to have more than one and even several careers that they have followed. Usually these decisions come about for them when one pathway runs its course, and they know it is time for a change. Likewise, once people choose to follow a path, they find ways then to work back into their journeys other things that interest them. Although it may take time, they find a way to bring back into their lives some of those things they said no to earlier. The common denominator here, however, is that these individuals first said yes to something and no to other things. The paths they ended up following would not have transpired for them had they not taken that first step toward one path at their crossroads. While we can’t be sure that we can work things back into our lives we once said no to, one thing is for sure. If we don’t say yes to something at the beginning, we will stay stuck at the crossroad. Staying stuck is simply saying no to everything. Again, we don’t know the end from the beginning. It may well be that when we say no to some things, they will never return to our life’s journey. There is nothing worse, however, than never getting started. All one has to do is listen to some stories that people tell about having wasted that resource of time to the point that they believe they have wasted their lives. If there is a guarantee I can give, then it would be that it is much better to choose a path, even if we have to reverse it later than to never have chosen at all. One can think in terms of romance. If I love a woman and wonder if I should tell her, one thing is for sure. If I never take the risk to tell her, I’ll never know what would have transpired. If I do tell her, and she says she doesn’t feel the same way, then painful as that may be, at least I gave it shot. I believe it is that way with every crossroad we face.
I write this blog from a Christian worldview. As Christians, we believe in God’s providential care over our lives. That means we don’t need to know the end from the beginning. What God’s providence doesn’t mean is that we should make decisions in haphazard ways. In fact, as Christians we should be the ones who put the meaning into due diligence. We do the best we can, and we leave it in God’s hands. Does that mean we never make mistakes? I wish! Like anyone’s life, we can choose to learn from the choices we made that didn’t turn out or we can grow bitter and disappointed. From a Christian perspective, we can look to the lessons that God has for us. One of the things we all must learn is that the rare resource of time is limited. We don’t have the time to make life decisions in a haphazard manner. We equally don’t have the time to grow bitter and disappointed when decisions we make don’t turn out the way we desired. Life is indeed a learning process. It has hard knocks, pitfalls, and traps into which we fall. It also has its rewards that come with wisdom that we gain if we look for it in the experiences life offers us.
Life is a series of yes’s and no‘s. We are finite creatures who cannot know the beginning from the end. We have the rare resource of time to navigate the winding rivers and roads of our lives. The sad fact is that we can waste our lives if we are not careful. We encounter crossroads of one kind or another everyday. The major ones can be angst producing. The worst thing we can do at major crossroads is stay stuck as in quicksand because we want some form of guarantee that everything will work out the way we hope. No human being can offer us that. The one thing I do believe is that through faith and due diligence things will work out. Perhaps not in the way we hoped or desired, but they will work out, providing us with lessons that we can hopefully and joyfully call wisdom.
There’s nothing richer than that kind of wisdom.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/April 14th, 2020