Saturday, October 5, 2013

Be a Decider

Robert Frost
"In three words," once observed famous poet Robert Frost, "I can sum up everything I've learned about life - it goes on."

His words have come back to me again and again over the years. His classic "The Road Not Taken" compels us to choose, and often the path less taken proves more beneficial than the one well-trodden. But to take that road implies we are capable of making decisions.

I have been asked for counsel by others, it seems because they value my opinion. At first as a young bishop I was flattered a little. Who doesn't want to be seen as sagacious by others? Then I learned as I observed what they did after seeking my advice that they really didn't value my advice at all. They were just seeking approval for what they had already decided. Their subsequent actions rarely reflected what I had offered. So I don't offer much advice these days.

It's the universal God-given gift of moral agency that often gets in the way of people doing as we think they should or could. And it is almost always the case that we see their path much more clearly than they do as they muddle through life decisions that affect them for years to come.

The tendency to seek advice from others about what we should do next often gets in the way of trusting our own instincts first. There are those who seek advice from multiple sources, and the messages they receive are seldom triangulated for accuracy. Instead, multiple sources tend to create confusion and disorientation. Even the best-intentioned advice from so many sources can become debilitating.

President George W. Bush
Being a decider is a valuable trait of character to cultivate. When George W. Bush was POTUS and confronted with a myriad of problems at home and abroad, he was often criticized as weak and ineffective. (Compare and contrast with the current resident of the White House.) In one impassioned response to his critics who suggested Dick Cheney was the real force at work behind the throne, Bush emphatically declared, "I am the decider."

So it is in each of our lives. We cannot live our lives backward, cherishing our long list of reasons we have been victimized by this person or that person, this set of adverse circumstances or that one. Assessing blame for why you are where you are today may be comforting to you on some level, but in the end one must come to the realization that the past is nothing but the prologue to the future and no one needs to remain paralyzed by it.

And yet so often I see people who don't seem to be able to break out from the prison in which they find themselves. Those prison walls are built slowly over a lifetime - all the "what ifs," the "shoulda couldas," the "if onlys" and all the blame games. One need look no further than the dynamics now on full display in Washington D.C. for a bad example of what not to do.

When I have attempted to help people break out of these self-made prisons of self-deceit, they seem reluctant to walk through the open prison door, however. I observe they have grown accustomed to their familiar walls that enslave them. Even in misery, too often, some can find a perverse form of comfort. And now I have come to appreciate how unhelpful I have been to them by offering suggestions. In my role as the well-intentioned rescuer I have only further enslaved them as the victim when they have approached me with their latest dramas. I cannot undo the past for anyone. The power isn't in me, nor is it within them to rewrite history. The past is buried deep. Even what I did yesterday is now nothing but a memory. The facts cannot be altered in one iota. It simply is carved in granite stone and cannot be amended, except to repent when it is possible.

But in the very act of repenting we are set free. Our acts may have been chiseled in stone, but we need not assume the need for repentance is reserved alone for the "big" sins. We can repent of wallowing in our past, especially when things didn't turn out the way our "ideal life" suggested it might. That would be a good place to start.

When it comes to predicting what your decisions might lead to in the future, care and restraint is advised. I have proven to my own satisfaction that my best guesses are often faulty. Again, what stands in our way most often in reaching our goals is the abuse of agency by others who thwart our best laid plans. We have no control, really, over either the past or the future. Try as I might I have no idea what the intrigues of nations will mean to my life. All I can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst the best I can. What we do have is the decisions we make today. It's the most obvious way to exert control, if it is control you seek.

"Seize the day" (carpe diem) is sound advice. Choices are routinely presented to us on a daily basis. Even seemingly small choices only seem insignificant because they are small, but they set us on a trajectory that projects itself into the unknown future. We make "best guesses." But choose we must. We cannot forever halt between opinions. When aided by revelation in seeking which choice to make, we may rest assured that God is invested in our lives and our desires. I have found it useful to take a long view when setting the goals. By that I mean picking a spot in the future to keep my eye on, then all the other choices become aligned with that grand focused goal. Aligning our choices also automatically eliminates many alternative paths that would divert us. When we choose what is best for our eternal welfare first, all other considerations will fall into a natural sequence.

President Thomas S. Monson
This weekend we will hear inspired counsel from our leaders in the 183rd Semi-Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the helm now stands President Thomas S. Monson, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has served in that calling since 1963, fifty years! We will hear messages from many leaders in addition. There will be much inspiration and counsel offered. Sometimes, they may seem repetitive. Because this weekend often comes at us like drinking from a fire hose, many tend to either tune out or give up because it seems too overwhelming to take in. However, what I have learned after many years of experiencing General Conference is that after the dust settles on Monday morning I am left to decide what comes next. Only I can decide for myself what I will do going forward.

President Boyd K. Packer
President Boyd K. Packer often observed, after listening to others present this or that proposal, "Therefore, what?" Those two words are the key to your decision making. After all that has gone before in your life, whether those circumstances were positive or debilitating, ask yourselves, "Therefore, what?" What will I decide to do today? How can I become a decider? What must I do to break out of the prison walls of my past that encase me today? Who will listen to my soul's complaints with the greatest understanding and empathy?

Prayer is the key to understanding what it means to walk by faith. Learning to listen to the still, small voice within is the first step. Acting upon the impressions received may seem difficult at first, but without our determination to take that first step off the launching pad will mean our ability to receive revelation will be hampered. Resolve today that you will become a decider, trust your inspiration, even your "best guesses," then take action and move forward into the uncertain future that awaits you. Acting day by day in faith with confidence in the impressions you receive from the Holy Ghost eventually leads to a lifetime of learned behavior. When those decisions cumulatively add up to learned obedience, happiness and satisfaction results. Don't agonize over your regrets. Surely you will have regrets, but suppress their pervasive influence to control your future and hold you forever captive.

Don't be like the Republicans and Democrats who incessantly blame one another for political gain. Give up blaming others. As a nation and as individuals we are where we are today. There is nothing to be gained by trying to assess blame for our present condition and there is ample blame to go around if you are inclined to find the scapegoats. Break out of the blame game. Don't stay in the victimization of hopelessness. Instead, take full responsibility for your choices. Stop making excuses as explanations for your condition today. Own it. Be prepared to accept full accountability for the consequences of your choices. Learn from past mistakes. Move forward. Stop looking backward.

Be a decider.

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