Before GPS and Loran, deciding which way to go at sea was a complicated process. The captain had to make sure that the ship’s clock and compass were properly maintained, that his charts were up to date, and that the prevailing winds and seasonal hurricanes had been taken into consideration. Further, a log had to be kept of daily sextant readings and the ship’s forward progress. A coordinated set of procedures were followed throughout the journey and every assumption double checked, for landing on the rocks can be deadly.
We live most of our lives like drunken sailors, puttering between two or three coastal ports, lulled by our limited responsibilities into thinking we will never need to navigate new waters. Then suddenly, trauma like a storm, casts us into a situation where we can’t go on to the next familiar harbor. The journey that follows a major trauma often involves becoming separated from the people and institutions that gave us guidance in the past. Think of the merchant captains who were drafted into convoy duty during WWII. Today, unemployed workers often say that the sense of being alone and adrift from the routine of having a boss telling them where to be and what to do when is the worst part of it. Naval navigation is complicated. Learning how to decide for ourselves is similarly difficult.
Transition has one major lesson:
Following an appropriate decision-making process is more important than any one decision
Your decision making process is like the charts, compass, and sextant, that a diligent captain uses at sea. We don’t enjoy taking time deciding how to decide. Remember the last time you were in a group that was debating where to go for lunch? Now, amid transition’s journey, it is important that you think about the way you chart your course. What have you always assumed to be true? Depending upon your longitude, what your compass says is north may be dead wrong.
There are only three ways to make a decision:
1) Authority – This is when you ask an elder, clergyperson, public safety officer, or political leader to make the decision for you. Parents will often teach their children to always trust those in authority. Those of us who came of age after Watergate might question this.
2) Popularity – This is when you look around you and see what others are doing. In this age of social media, we will often check Facebook likes or Amazon rating stars before watching a movie or buying a product. Whether picking a president, or determining which singer has talent, taking a vote is how we like to do things.
3) Discernment – This has been called “listening for the still, small, voice.” Discernment involves reflecting upon history and learning from our past. We must soberly weigh our own temperament and talents (See Romans 12). Spiritual formation takes time, but in the end satisfies our soul.
Perhaps, we are stuck here for a reason. As we journey through transition, we are reminded that charts can be out of date and those in authority fallible. That lemmings run off cliffs and most people are wrong much of the time. God has given us sensitive hearts and curious minds so that we might discern our own path and destination.
One of Jesus most forgotten stories involves a wealthy landowner who has a decision to make. One year, his fields produce a bumper crop. Much more than he can fit in his barns. What should he do?
The land owner speaks to his soul, saying, “I know what I’ll do, I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones.” (Luke 12:13-21) At this point, God breaks in, saying, “You fool. This night you will die.”
As people say, you can’t take it with you. If having more stuff is our primary concern, we will always make short-sighted decisions.
But if you look at this story in either the KJV or the RSV Bible translations, the word ‘Soul’ (Greek psyche) stands out. The rich man says he wants to build bigger barns so his soul can take it easy. He wants to make his soul merry.
Jesus is winking at us here. Our souls are not content with leisure, fame, riches, or bigger barns. Instead, our souls want us to become authentic and compassionate human beings. How do we keep our soul’s interests in mind as we make every day decisions?
The philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reminds us:
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Transition has a way of helping us pay attention to our soul. Life on this earth is limited. Creativity, joy, love, and the worship of God, is infinite. The decisions we face seem to be about money, safety, physical comfort, and status, are really about vision, identity, faith, courage, and sacrifice. Nothing that troubles us now, will lasts forever. Nothing that pleases us now is worth more than our eternal soul. We should make decisions with that in mind.
Yes, we should be good stewards of our resources. We should “right-size” our metaphorical barns from time to time. Have a yard sale. Give unused things away. Whatever it takes to keep from being defined by our material possessions.
The trauma of transition often forces us to abandon cherished things. Wilderness travel is, of necessity, pared down. It’s easier to make wise decisions when our heart isn’t cluttered. The Apostle Paul said it bluntly,
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
(I Timothy 6:10)