It was a big decision that weighed the two of us down as if we had slogged through wet cement.
And maybe we did: The consequences of either option would affect our family in ways that felt permanent, paving smooth or contorted steps before us.
It would have been easier if we saw clearly, even eye-to-eye. But through long and late-night conversations, we each needed to acknowledge driving emotion and passion. Plus we needed to recognize internal thought processes we’d assumed the other would share. But core desires about who we wanted to be, who we wanted our family to be, clashed (check out James 4:1-2).
When decisions pull at you like a marital Gumby, where do you start? What questions do you ask?
I can’t promise the following questions will make the decision for you. But hopefully, they’ll move you in the direction of a greater knowledge of God, understanding of yourselves, and sense of togetherness in your marriage—making your decision that much easier.
1. “Lord, what should we do about this big decision?”
God has a “straight path” for this decision—even if there’s more than one that would honor Him.
Trust Him and seek His face first, apart from what seems clear to you. (See Proverbs 3:5-6.)
Together, ask for God’s wisdom about this decision. Then believe He’ll be faithful to give you that wisdom (James 1:5-6)—whether He gives you your heart’s desire or lovingly, sovereignly doesn’t. That won’t make you Teflon, so nothing bad sticks. (Determining whether a decision was “God’s will” based on tough results isn’t great theology. A lot of God’s people, like Jesus himself, have suffered right in the center of God’s will.)
2. When honest, what do each of us (at gut-level) want?
What circumstances make this decision easier or difficult, confusing or more obvious?
Even when interests are divided (within you or as a couple), truthfully stating desires helps.
Not only do we understand each other’s heart more intimately, we disarm those desires from managing us from behind. It’s too easy for our real cravings to subtly manipulate “God’s will” or what we “should do.”
Unvarnished openness also helps discern which desires could be God-created—or driven by sinful appetites.
What are the emotions you’re feeling about this? What obligations, godly and ungodly, compel you? Are either of you seeking to escape anything?
Consider, too, how desires for comfort, power, approval, or security influence you. (Check out David Powlison’s X-ray questions for further insight into what disordered wants might shape your perceptions.)
3. What do Scripture and wise, spiritually-mature advisers who know us say?
Are you seeking God by digging into His Word about this? He gives us what we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him (2 Peter 1:3).
A friend of ours fasted and prayed for 40 days regarding whether to start his own marriage nonprofit. At the end of his fast, my husband asked our friend if God had revealed what to do.
“No. But I know God so much more. And because of that, I know what His character would have me do.”
Then consider, who opposes or supports this decision? Do they walk with God? Are there circumstances they don’t see, values they don’t share, stakes they have in the game?
Keep in mind “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
4. What decision can we make from…
- Faith and courage, as opposed to walking “by sight”?
- What are we afraid of if we do this? What are we afraid of if we don’t?
- Though we may not see a clear direction from God, is there one of these choices that seems an act of extravagant worship to God—an “alabaster box” of sorts (see Matthew 26:6-13)?
- Are we waiting on God, or feeling impatient, anxious, or rushed?
- God says His wisdom is pure, then peacemaking, gentle, open to reason (do we feel ready to listen?), full of mercy and good fruits, not showing favoritism, and sincere. (This, from James 3:17, would be great to memorize together.)
- In each of our options, what values are being championed? How do these align with our values as servants of God and as a family?
- Love (as opposed to people-pleasing)?
- How will this affect other people inside and outside of our family?
- How will this affect the peace, harmony, and joy of our family environment—and people’s ability to see Christ in us?
- “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28). Do we truly have the resources (time, energy, support, finances) to do this well—and with margin to flex for unanticipated circumstances and others’ needs? Could any part of us be greedy for more than we can handle?
- What are possible future outcomes of this big decision that we might not anticipate?
- Long term and short term, what do we stand to gain and lose?
- What needs or wants does this decision fill? Who will be most disadvantaged if we do or don’t do this?
5. Are we seeking God’s honor, or our own?
- Scripture talks about what we sow (check out Galatians 6:8-10). What are we sowing in each of these choices? What would we be preparing to reap? What’s our vision for each of these choices?
- Is this big decision a matter of obedience or opportunity?
- How does eternity influence our perspective?
- Looking at our experiences, passions, gifting, abilities, and personalities, how has God gifted us with relation to each of these options (though gifting and opportunity don’t equal calling!)?
- Are we making this choice out of freedom to obey God and into further freedom in following God? Or would one of these options move us into further slavery to something or someone else? Do we sense a good pressure from God, a choice to join him—or are we doing this out of shame or fear of some kind?
6. Are there alternatives or creative decisions to consider?
See if there’s a way your thinking has gotten stuck, moving only within your initial options. Is there a solution that could encompass both of your underlying values with minimal compromise?
Still wondering which direction you should ultimately go?
Remember your Good Shepherd knows how to get your attention, and exactly how to direct you. He’s not standing over you, meaty arms crossed, expecting you to read His mind with information He hasn’t given you—”Better get this one right!”
God wants you following His will even more than you do. So don’t overestimate your ability to mess up your life by taking a wrong turn!
Remember: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, emphasis added). He says, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).
After all, you can’t really thwart God’s plans (Job 42:2).
So take a deep breath, and trust the One who calls you by name.
Copyright © 2020 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, on spiritual life skills for messy families (Zondervan), releases March 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.