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Making Wise Choices: What Not to Do

My freshman students and I began our journey through the Bible once again this school year. We just finished studying Abraham and God’s covenant with him.  The kids were noticeably (and not surprisingly) mute at the mention of circumcision (anybody looking for a good moyle?)  

They did notice, however, some of the flaws of Abraham’s faith and the ways he responded to God’s promises.

God promises that Abraham’s descendants will become a great nation in the land of Canaan. As soon as some difficulty arose between Abraham’s herdsman and his nephew’s herdsmen, Abraham makes a prudential judgment to split up, to separate from one another in the land.  God eventually re-proclaims his promises to Abraham—of land, a nation, a kingdom, and to be a blessing to all nations. Later, God corrects Abraham’s doubts, assuring Abraham that he will have his own child and through that child will have many descendants. Eventually, still without a child, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, impatiently take matters into their own hands to fulfill the promise.  They give Abraham to their maidservant Hagar to bear a child because of Sarah’s old age. To quote my high school English teacher, "Thanks for showing us...what not to do."

To some extent, Abraham’s responses seem reasonable. "Here is a problem, so let’s try this practical solution." The flaw, however, is in Abraham failing to trust God. Rather than consulting first with God in this important life matter, Abraham first takes action, relying only on his own prudential judgment.  

I can relate to Abraham—not to being childless, obviously, but to his solution-driven mind. I have a tendency to do the same thing.  If something is wrong in life, at work, at home, in my own head, my first instinct is to figure out what I need to do to fix it. What is lacking? What do I need to change? What am I doing that needs to stop?  Our wisdom, problem solving, and ingenuity are a gift from God. Our use of these faculties gives glory to him. But we can, too often, put our ultimate trust in ourselves when our first glance, our first plea for help, needs to go to God.  

Some big life changes and decisions will require days, weeks, or even years of discernment and consult with God. This doesn’t mean we should make an act of faith in God at the expense of our own instincts and wisdom, but it does mean that we will need to stay plugged in to God throughout the process. I think of my own discernment of the priesthood, the journey to—and through—the wedding day, choosing and and pivoting through our careers.  

Some decisions will only require God’s guidance in and through our reflection and prudential problem solving.  This could be a new daily habit, breaking an old habit, how you’re going to discipline your child, if and how you should discuss a serious issue with a someone, or maybe as trivial as evening, weekend, or vacation plans.

God’s desire and great plan for us is not at the expense of our own desires and wisdom. He’s not a puppet-wielding God. He is not a God just sitting back in the lay-z-boy watching his creation play out in front of him.  He is a God who has incorporated us into His rescue plan, to participate in His work, and share in His own life.   

Father, as one truly devoted to you I promise never to forget you. Grant me pardon for my sins, the grace of perseverance, peace of heart, assistance in all my actions, and your consolation and defense in all suffering and danger. Bless me with your own divine wisdom when I need it most. And in the most important decisions in life, give me the desire and commitment to trust in you with all my heart and to lean not on my own understanding. Amen.