People often ask us to pray for them as they discern God's calling regarding a difficult relationship or career choice. How can you be sure that you are making the right choice? I regularly come alongside stressed out college students who are overwhelmed with what to do next and how to make decisions about their future. The weight of big decisions can feel terrifying and sometimes paralyzing. So how can you have peace while wrestling with difficult choices?
Anxiety can spiral when we over-focus on the problem. The molehill becomes a mountain and we feel powerless about how to manage it. Our focus on the problem can obscure our view of the solution and undermine the understanding that God is big enough to handle it. Most problems require lots of small steps, so it doesn't have to be solved all at once. Where we choose to focus matters.
Some choices are just about preference as God gives us freedom to follow our gifting, but some choices are made clear in scripture. God is not going to call us to something that conflicts with his word. God is not going to call you to cheat on your spouse or be dishonest with your employer. Jesus instructs us in Matthew 6:33 to, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When we are following God as our first priority other things tend to fall into place. When God is first, we have a guide for making the rest of our decisions in life.
We are all created with a unique set of gifts and talents. God has placed passions within each of us that inspire us to serve his kingdom. Each of us was created with a role to play in God’s kingdom. Maybe we can pursue one passion for a time, and later another. God gives us lots of freedom to follow our hearts and find opportunities to bless others. We have a responsibility to explore our gifting and use those talents for his service. Consider thoughtfully the passions that God has placed within you and look for an opportunity to begin.
Dividing the big overwhelming challenges into bite-sized portions to make a plan can help to bring some peace to the process. Begin with the end in mind? What can you say about where you want to end up (or not end up)? List out the pros and cons of different options so you can discern a direction. Maybe have the conversation with a wise friend who can offer guidance. Then think about steps and signposts along the way. What would it take to get there? What small steps can you take now to start the process? If we can focus on what we can do next, we are less likely to get overwhelmed by the big picture. Even if the whole goal seems overwhelming, as you break it down and divide the work, the task becomes more manageable.
We can get overwhelmed by the big picture and lose sight of the next step. It can be helpful to step back from the situation and focus on what is within your control and where you can make a difference. We may not be able to bring peace to the Middle East, but we can cultivate a relationship with a neighbor. Choosing a career field may seem overwhelming, but visiting the career office and taking an interest test can be a place to start. When I started back to graduate school the program looked overwhelming, so I focused on one assignment at a time. Life can overwhelm, and some days we will feel like giving up, but taking the next step of obedience is all that God asks of us.
Too often we treat prayer as the last resort when we feel desperate rather than an essential part of the decision-making process. By praying through each step of the process, we align ourselves regularly with the desires of God’s heart. Prayer is how we turn over our concerns to God. As we pray, we align our hearts with God’s purposes and listen to how God is guiding us. Prayer takes the same muscles as worrying, but it directs our concerns to God and invites him to carry the burdens.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a step, even when you're not sure where you're going. Choose a general direction and try a few steps. See where God will bring you.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema