Some people regret the big choices they’ve made in life; others regret that life has not given them a choice.
I do not find myself in any of these two categories, but in a more bizarre one: I am one of those people who did not know, from the beginning, that they have a choice or what having a choice actually means. Fortunately, over time, I’ve learned that choosing involves taking creative responsibility for my life, and for now, I’m still learning how to deal with the doubts that arise along the way.
For a long time, I thought I was making a choice when I reacted, in one way or another, to the course shown by the figures of authority in my life (parents, grandparents, educators, God). I chose when to listen or not. I began my migration to independence when I began to reduce authority to God alone and to measure the authority of people who had a say in my life against what I understood to be the Word of God.
I spent many years in this system of thinking, in which my interpretation of God’s will sometimes clashed with some of my family’s traditions or some of the activities that were popular with my friends. My choices were reduced to a moral binomial which I saw in categorical touches: good-bad, moral-immoral, right-wrong, true-false. My initiative did not fit between these pairs of choices. At times, my (self-perceived) condition of always being under the rule of the absolute moral decision seemed unfair to me: everything was divided into either absolute good or absolute evil.
Over time, this perspective was reflected in a transactional relationship with God: if I do what is right (in the most honest interpretation I am capable of), then God will be pleased with me and all will be good for me. I think that this way of thinking is very tempting for incipient spirituality. We recognize this in all its extravagance in the “gospel of prosperity” movement, but we find it harder to infer it from the ordinary experience of the Christian who expects (even unconsciously) their life to be, if not prosperous, then at least predictable.
The transactional relationship is seen in the surprise we experience when our lives take unexpected and unpleasant turns.
We realize then that, even though we had never verbalized it, we had thought in our hearts that we would not get sick from that serious disease, that we would not have dear people dying in unexpected ways, that we would not be deceived, that we would not lose money in harmful business relationships, etc. In our hearts we make a deal with ourselves that our life will have a predictable course, proportional to our intentions, which God will not be able to overlook, but will instead protect and bless.
And when this fails, we find ourselves asking the same questions philosophers have for decades: why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? What is the reason for suffering?
The unpredictable hurls us for a while into an atmosphere where all laws are temporarily suspended and everything is questionable. Our natural tendency is to try to restore the predictability of the system by re-verifying the validity of the story we tell ourselves about life and keeping from it only what passes the test of new circumstances.
This was also true in my case: the sad experiences of loss made me reconsider my story. I initially discovered that the unspoken “contract” that I believed existed between people and God—the understanding that nothing really bad can happen to people who do good—does not exist. I did not know how to put it into words at the time, but I was beginning to sense that God is certainly far greater than the spiritual patterns in which I had made myself see Him.
If He is so mysteriously different and great, most likely the good that derives from Him must also be much more diverse and complex than I perceive it through the glasses of religious education. Until now I have found no good reason to change my mind. Instead, this vision has gradually reshaped the way I relate to making choices today.
Today, I am learning to integrate the unpredictable into the predictability of life. I try to get used to the idea that the unpredictable will happen and that when it does, I don’t have to feel that my metanarrative is demolished or feel guilty that I built it from the very beginning. It would be better to admit that something unexpected was bound to happen. I also concluded that I should not see this as a relentless consequence, as a mathematical theorem of my choices, but as a fascinating application of a law of life that I do not yet know or cannot know.
In this perspective, God owes me nothing for making the right decisions, and the unhappy things in my life are not necessarily the result of my mistakes.
I was often late to life’s great stops because every step in that direction was a decision analyzed inside my inner forum with the natural insecurity of one who believes that the future can and must be accurately anticipated, and that I should channel all my efforts, and use all my intelligence and knowledge for this purpose. Today I don’t think the same. Instead, I see that the future can be beautifully written even when you can’t predict all its lines and loops. This realization opens up the horizon of choices and strips them of the heavy burden of a false responsibility of certainty, which, in reality, no one has placed on our shoulders.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34, NIV).
In those moments where I experience doubt or have unanswerable questions I try to remember that the future is not black and white and that its many colours shine brightest when I live them in a relationship of communion with God, which I no longer see as a contract, but as a friendship. My faith is no longer built on transcations, but on love and the belief that my heavenly father cares about my struggle and pain.
This is how I came to believe that my choices consist not only of expressing adherence to one of the possible options, and judging this adherence according to a moral binomial, but that the higher choice is the one that generates the option, in the sure and encouraging context of a friendship with God.
I have no guarantee that I will make a good choice in the future, but I am no longer afraid that a wrong choice will push me beyond the boundaries of the resolvable, because I am convinced that God, who has placed in us the spirit of initiative, is willing to refine it in ways we probably can’t even fathom.
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Alina Kartman (35 years old) graduated from the Faculty of Communication and Public Relations at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest (SNSPA), but chose a career in journalism. With hundreds of published analysis materials, she has accumulated over 13 years of editorial experience. She is a senior editor at ST Network, the European version of Signs of the Times. A version of this article first appeared on their website and is republished with permission.