Young people are faced with many difficult decisions about our future. First, we need to decide where to go to college, what to major in, and then what to pursue as a career. And, as young adults progress through our 20s, we need to choose whether to go to graduate school, and which jobs we should apply to.
All of these decisions can feel overwhelming. What if I make the wrong choice? What if I give up a great opportunity?
And this overwhelming sense of potential failure can keep us inactive. We want to be happy, make our family happy, and follow God’s will. Fear of not making the best choice can be paralyzing.
So what are we to do? How can we maneuver this difficult process of decision making?
The Old Testament book of 2 Maccabees (which we just read in the Bible in a Year reading program) is a great place to look first. It is a story of struggle and redemption, and of God’s continual involvement in the lives of His people as they navigate difficult situations.
If we’re challenged with making a difficult decision, the book of 2 Maccabees can remind us to follow these three steps: prayer, action, and committing the results to God.
In reading 2 Maccabees, I was impressed by how deeply the people prayed to God. Whenever they were faced with something, or they didn’t know what to do next, they would immediately turn to prayer. Their prayer demonstrated real reliance on God, trusting in Him to save them and to guide them.
What did their prayer look like? “They fell prostrate before the foot of the altar and implored Him to be merciful to them” (2 Maccabees 10:26) and “they all made the same petition together and constantly implored the merciful Lord with weeping, fasting, and prostrations for three days” (2 Maccabees 13:12).
They turned to God, together, in repentance and humility.
Sometimes, I have found that my prayer is more selfish than humble. Instead of praying for God’s will, I might pray for what I hope will be the outcome. In these moments, I can pray the Lord’s Prayer intentionally, focusing on the words “Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.” Similarly, praying the Jesus Prayer reminds us to direct our focus on Jesus and His will, instead of on our anxieties and desires. In prayer, we learn that we aren’t in control of all the details of how our lives will work out. Prayer is our way of letting go of our attempt at controlling and micromanaging our lives and inviting God into that space instead.
But prayer isn’t the whole story. Our first step is to pray, turning to God to guide us and to make clear His will. After we learn to turn to God for help with our decisions, we still have to make those decisions.
And a big part of that involves action.
This action step isn’t a mindless or impulsive movement. We must act, but we must do so carefully. It involves consulting with others (2 Maccabees 13:13) about what action will be best. Reaching out to those more experienced than us can remind us that we are not making this decision separated from God or others. And this helps us break out of our fear, since we can be confident in not being alone.
Fear is what keeps us from ever making a decision in the first place. We worry that we won’t be smart enough to get into that school, experienced enough to get that job, or prepared enough to move to that unknown place. And in some ways, we’re right. Alone, without God’s presence, we wouldn’t be. But, with His help, and by His strength, we can and we will be able to face whatever life throws us.
And sometimes what we have to face is that we won’t always get what we want. God’s will isn’t always what we might wish for. But when we trust in God – that He will be with us and guide us even when we make the wrong choice – fear won’t keep us from taking that step. Acting, leaving the safety and certainty of our current situation, is a statement of trust in God's guiding hand.
And so we take a step. We apply to that school, we apply to that job, we make that move. Fear will always be a temptation, but that’s all it is: a temptation. Inaction is much scarier than making a decision, and is what happens when we allow ourselves to be trapped in endless hypotheticals and “what ifs” rather than simply living in the present and doing the best we can. Action is the shortest of the three steps, because it just requires us to make a decision and to take an action. And this tiny step is crucial because we’ll never get anywhere if we don’t cooperate with God and do our part.
We will continue to seek guidance from God through prayer, but after making a choice and taking an action, we have to trust in God to see to the results.
We read in 2 Maccabees that the people of God made their decisions with “the Lord as their place of refuge” (2 Maccabees 10:28). They first turned to God in prayer, then they consulted with others and took action. This third step is all about how we approach life once we have made that choice and acted upon it.
The temptation of fear might come back. Did I make the right decision? Is this really God’s will? Will I like this school, will this job work out, will I make friends in this new place? But if the Lord is my refuge, I will need to trust that He will guide and keep me in the midst of any challenges that will come my way.
It’s up to me to lift my foot to take a step, but I must learn to trust that God will guide my foot to firm ground.
After determining to take action, the people of God in 2 Maccabees “let the matter be decided by the help of God” and by “committing the results to the Creator of all” (2 Maccabees 13: 13-14). This can be the hardest part in making a decision: trusting that God will take care of the result, according to His will. But it’s also the most freeing part because we remember that God is with us and that all of our steps are established by the Lord (Psalm 37:23).
When faced with a difficult choice, we need to first turn to God in prayer and let Him know all of our worries. After we have let go of all of our anxieties and have asked God for guidance, we simply have to take a step forward and make a decision. Once we take an action, we learn to let go by trusting that God will take care of what happens next.
Do you struggle with making tough decisions? How can you involve God in these choices? And if you struggle with fear, how can you better trust that He will take care of the result?
Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.
Leap of faith