Analysis Paralysis

I have a friend in Virginia who has a very difficult time making decisions if she’s presented with more than three or four options. She calls it “analysis paralysis.” She starts thinking about all the things that will happen with each decision and what she’d lose by not going with the others and just keeps cycling through without being able to make up her mind. 

I have something similar, only mine works backwards. I keep thinking about all the decisions in my life and how it seems the vast majority of them have been wrong. For example, I could have invested in Amazon back when it was losing money every quarter. A lot of people thought that Internet sales were the next big thing, myself included, but I thought Wal-mart would take over or there’d be another company that did the same thing as Amazon, only better. I thought their business model must not be very good to have lost money every quarter but one in their history. With their meteoric rise, I’ve been kicking myself since, telling myself I could have gotten it for less than $50 in 2008 and as of now, it’s worth $339.04. I could have invested in Google or Apple, too, but I didn’t see how Google would make enough money and thought Apple products were only for graphic artists. I keep telling myself I could have been rich, and I would be if only I were smarter. There are a few problems with this:

1. I don’t know for certain what would have happened had I made a different decision. Let’s say I had invested in Amazon. If I had been able to make nearly seven times as much as I put in within just six years, I probably would have been able to buy a small home, perhaps in Virginia, which would have made it difficult to leave there when God called me to Colorado. If I hadn’t bought a home in Virginia, I would have almost certainly gotten one when I got married, which would have made moving to Houston when He called us here much harder. In all of these missed opportunities, God has a purpose. Even if I hadn’t bought a home and we just moved here with a good chunk of money, I don’t know where our other decisions would have led us, but those decisions affect who we meet, whether we’re in a car accident, where I look for jobs, and a host of other things.

2. I analyze only what I missed out on. It’s human nature to look only at what you could have gotten and totally forget about what you missed unless it’s blindingly obvious. We hear a few stories about people who couldn’t get to the airport on time and the flight they were supposed to be on crashed. Most of the time, though, we look at the stock we should have bought, the woman we should have asked out, the life decision that would have worked out beautifully. Are there times we miss out on opportunities through fear, laziness, bad attitudes, etc.? Yes, but we don’t know how they would have worked out and there are some awful decisions we’ve avoided as well. Were you ever tempted to invest in a stock that later tanked? Did you miss out on a job with a company that went under? Did you not date someone and then find out later they had a screw loose? Be fair in your analysis. You’ll likely find that most of the results of your decisions lie somewhere between awesome and horrible, meaning that you’ve missed out on as much bad as good.

3. I’m analyzing decisions by their results, rather than by my decision-making process. If I skip work one day and buy a Powerball ticket and win, was skipping work a good decision? Most of us would answer “yes” pretty emphatically. I would disagree. It’s a decision that worked out exceptionally well, but that doesn’t make it a good decision. Likewise, if I went to work as normal and got t-boned by someone who ran a red light, that doesn’t make going to work a bad decision. A decision should be analyzed by the information I had available at the time, my thought process to arrive at my decision, and how much of my decision was based on logical reasoning rather than on impulsive emotions. When I decided to marry Leah, I took care to separate reasoning from emotion as far as I could. I thought about our fit together with personality, attraction, opinions on major subjects, interests, etc. I knew I loved her, but I wouldn’t have married her if I could not reasonably see long-term love rather than a love that lasts just a couple years. 

4. Endless analysis keeps me from forgiving myself. This is perhaps the most important one. We’re commanded to forgive; if we don’t, we won’t be forgiven. (Matthew 6:15) This includes forgiving ourselves. Forgiving yourself is probably one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do, yet it is also one of the most necessary. Everyone makes mistakes, plenty of them. Even those people whom you look at and wonder how their lives got so perfect have made their share and continue to make more. You’ll make more mistakes in the future. Just don’t dwell on them. Dwelling on them puts fear in your heart of making any more changes or decisions and prevents you from being able to analyze new opportunities. Let your past decisions go and just move on. Staring at the past won’t change it any more than hoping for a better future without working for it will make it happen. 

This post is mostly for myself. I’ve been struggling with all of these lately, fretting about frittering away so many opportunities to provide for my wife and the family we want to have. I don’t know what’s going to come in the future. All I know is that worrying about the past won’t help me to the future I want or, more importantly, the future God wants me to have.

Time to Serve

Yogi Berra was once asked by a teammate, “Yogi, what time is it?” Yogi responded, “You mean now?”

I’ve been in a hurry for much of my life. At work, I seem to always take on more than can be handled in a 40-hour work week. During my last semester in college, I was taking 16 hours, working a part-time job, working as an Academic Peer Advisor (something like a floor tutor), tutoring students in math, accounting, and finance, and studying for the CPA exam, which I had to take just four days after graduating. 

Yet after I quit my last job and found myself with a lot of time on my hands in which to serve God, I didn’t serve Him more than a few hours a month most of the time. I spent that time on myself. To be fair, a little time at the beginning was fair enough, but after a week of R&R, I should have been ready to go. I wrote because I believe He called me to write, but what I wrote wasn’t Christian. I was wasting a lot of time.

Part of it was that I didn’t know what to write for Him. He hadn’t told me yet, though that’s likely because I made myself too busy with friends and computer games to pay attention. In hindsight, I should have just served anyway. 

A lot of Christians seem to be waiting for their calling, as though there’s going to be a burning bush telling them where to go and what to do. It could happen that way or another blatant way, but God’s voice seems to be more often a whisper and His calling understated. When Jesus called certain of His disciples, it was without any miracles, just an invitation to follow Him, such as He gave to Matthew. 

Your calling, your purpose in life, is to love and serve God above all and to love others as you love yourself.

When Jesus called Matthew, He didn’t tell the tax collector what he’d be doing. He didn’t say, “Come with me and be a martyr,” or, “Join me and preach my new covenant to all the nations.” He only told Matthew to follow Him. The specific way in which Matthew was to serve was revealed after Matthew trusted in God and was willing to serve in whatever way Jesus wanted. 

When we wait, we often do what we want while waiting for our specific calling. Instead, we should be following Jesus, just being in His presence, learning about Him and from Him, and preparing our hearts so that when He is ready to use us, we are ready to be used. There may be a time, such as Esther had, for which we were created, but our time to serve and fulfill our main calling is always right now. There is no waiting to serve or hear direction. Love God. Love others. Just that simple.

The Only Story Worth Telling

We love stars. Be they actors, singers, athletes, or someone else, we often live vicariously through celebrities, dreaming of what it would be like to be that attractive, rich, famous, and good at what you do. We want that for ourselves, but don’t see ourselves as having the necessary qualities to pull it off.

The problem is that we want to be the stars. We want to be seen as important, attractive, and valuable. We want others to not just know us, but to admire and respect us. Many people are willing to accept a side role, but these aren’t the roles sought after. We may not all want to be movie stars, but we want to be the star in the story of our lives.

For myself, I’d love to walk onto a stage in front of thousands of people and share the message of Christian confidence, but the irony there is that part of it (some days a larger part than others, but always more than there should be) is for my glory, so I can be the hero. 

The only story worth telling is the one in which you’re not the hero.

The truth of my story and really of all of us is that we’re entirely incapable of saving ourselves. We can stop drinking heavily, get a steady job, stop breaking the law, and otherwise mold ourselves into productive members of society, but we can’t change our hearts. We can’t wash away our sins. We can’t redeem our past. And so many times in life, there are battles that we don’t have the courage, character, or ability to win. In all of these, when we are at the end of ourselves, we arrive at the beginning of Him.

My message can never be to my glory, but to the glory of Him who gave it to me, who saved me and gave me a reason to live. I need to surrender the starring role in my own life to play willingly, no, eagerly, whatever bit part He has for me. 

One of our favorite actors is Tim Curry. Whether it’s as Dr. Poole in Oscar (a movie that has inexplicably been almost entirely unknown), Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island, or Count Richelieu in The Three Musketeers, I’m convinced there’s no one who’s ever enjoyed his job more than he does. That’s the kind of joy I want to have playing God’s role for me in His sweeping epic of the history of humanity, not to steal the scene, but to show how happy I am to be there, how glad I am to serve the Star of the show rather than try to be that star.

He’s the real hero, the only hero, of the only story worth being a part of.

Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful

Don’t you know you’re beautiful
Even without the softest skin,
With no flowers in your hair
Or a workout regimen?

Don’t you know you’re beautiful
Though you haven’t a goddess’ body,
And beauty is scarce improved
By wearing jewels so gaudy?

Don’t you know you’re beautiful,
That it doesn’t matter if you’re smart?
Value’s not in sense of humor
Or found in the poet’s heart.

Don’t you know you’re beautiful?
For you’re delicately made,
Each detail of you crafted
With a beauty that cannot fade.

Don’t you know you’re beautiful?
Doesn’t matter what you do,
The reason you’re so beautiful
Is the love of Who made you.

 

Faith Determines Focus

They say the eyes can focus on only one thing at a time, that everything else becomes slightly blurry and is not fully comprehended. For the time that your eyes are focused on something, it’s the thing that matters most to them. The rest of the world is secondary.

In our lives, we’re often like that. When I’m hungry, I think about food. When I’m tired, I want to sleep. And when I’m scared, I think about that which scares me. In this case, that’s the idea that I won’t be able to find work down here, forcing Leah and I to live on the streets, which would mean, in my mind, that I’ve utterly failed as a husband. The thought terrifies me, not that she’d leave me, but that she’d stay and love me regardless, that I would have taken the person I love the most and who loves me more than I can fathom and make her destitute.

It’s a difficult thought to shake. The problem with it is that there’s no faith in God to be found there. If we believe God told us to move down here, then it’s on Him to provide for us when we’re in His will. If I had enough faith in that, my focus could be elsewhere because I wouldn’t see a problem; I’d see a certainty that He would come through. We focus on those things we either want or want to avoid. Those that are already taken care of are generally forgotten. 

My focus should be on doing God’s will, not on my problems. It’s not wrong to pray about situations or have plans, but it is wrong to focus on them to the point that I’m not focusing on God and His will for my life. My focus is only on my problems because my faith in God is not strong enough.

It’s difficult to have that faith when I struggle to focus on God long enough to build it. I guess that is perhaps the first step of faith, to willingly shift your focus from your problem to your Almighty Solution.

On Love, Faith, and Works

I love my wife, and I often try to express that in doing things for her. I tell her I love her every day, but I write her a poem once a month, sometimes do some of her chores for her, offer her neck and back massages, kiss her for no particular reason, and buy her little presents when I’m at the store. I don’t do these things because they are mandated of me, I do them because my love for her is so strong that I can hardly help doing them. I want to do even more for her.

Conversely, imagine that I told her every day that I loved her, but didn’t help her at all around the house, even when she felt overwhelmed by her to-do list. What if I never bought her anything, never supported her in her projects, and was apathetic about kissing or touching her outside of bed? Could it really be said that I love her? She would believe it when I said it for a while, but she’d eventually realize the truth that my words are just wind.

It’s not the words that convince her; it’s the actions.

Even working to provide for us would not be enough to really show affection. That’s part of my duty as a husband. I can work for someone without loving them; it would just breed frustration and bitterness over time.

Because I love her, though, I want to provide for her. I want to take a job that doesn’t just give us enough to get by, but that can get us enough so I can spoil her. And that’s another aspect of love:

Love doesn’t seek to do the bare minimum. By its very nature, it is exuberant and excessive.

Faith works in much the same way. In James 2:14-26, James tells us that faith without works is dead. We can’t claim with merely our words to have faith; we must show it in our actions. Even as far as salvation goes, though it is the faith that Jesus paid for our sins that saves us and not any works, whether prior or subsequent to our salvation, that faith, if true, will almost demand to be shown in works.

For my part, I’m still working on this, to be honest. “I believe, help my unbelief!” as Mark 9:24 says. I have faith enough to move Leah and I to Houston at God’s call, but not faith enough yet that He’ll provide. I’m still going through all the scenarios in my mind of how we could scrounge together money if God somehow lets us down. Yet He can’t, not just because He is faithful, but because He loves us desperately. His love for us practically compels Him to do what is best for us, because it is exuberant and excessive. He’s not the God of the bare minimum; He’s the God of the absolute best, even when that best is not what we were looking for.

Rules of Warfare

So…I intended to talk about decision-making and rules for when you argue in one post, but that last one ran a bit long, so I broke them up.

Leah and I have been very fortunate in how rarely we fight, but one of the reasons is that we have rules we live by that govern our conflict:

1. Either of us can call a 24-hour ceasefire, provided a decision isn’t required in that time, during which the other person can not bring it up. This time is to be used for prayer, seeking counsel from trusted friends, and to cool down.
2. We will not use name-calling, absolutes (such as “always” or “never”), sarcastic “I love you”s, threats of divorce, regret at knowing or marrying each other, ultimatums, or other manipulative phrases (“If you really loved me…”). If this happens, we automatically pause the fight for two hours, unless a decision is required within that time.
3. We’ll never argue in front of our kids and correction of each other, if possible, is to be done behind closed doors.
4. Finally, when we apologized to each other, we don’t use the word “but” to try to pass off some of the blame for our actions. It is an honest, straight-up apology.

We also have several guidelines for dealing with conflict. These are less strict than the rules, but are still worthwhile to follow:

1. We tackle problems together. It’s not us against each other; it’s us against the problem. When we attack the problem and not each other, we can keep calmer and be more creative. It also helps us to compromise because it’s not her position against mine so that I have to defend mine and get locked in; it’s a brainstorming session to find the best solution as a team.
2. We pray and seek our own fault in an argument. It’s easy to point fingers, but there has never, to my knowledge, been a fight in which only one person is wrong. Seeking our own fault helps us be more humble and see the other person’s side of things. When we do this, it’s easier to apologize to each other and get back to the issue at hand.
3. We keep fights to one room and never in the bedroom. We don’t want the bedroom to be a place of bad memories. For us, we’ve chosen the laundry room, just because we’re rarely in there.
4. We judge the behavior, not the person. This is one of the most important ones because when people fight, they have a tendency to villainize the other person. Suddenly, their motives not just in the fight, but overall, are wrong and they’re undoubtedly against us on a personal level. Remembering the truth, especially about your spouse, will help get rid of this anger, which is really based on fear.
5. Try to pull out the facts of the argument, then review them when we’re calmer. It’s rare that either side in an argument tells nothing but lies. A lot may be exaggeration, but when you’ve gone apart for a while to calm down, realize what the facts of the case are. Going by them and not by emotions helps resolve arguments much more quickly.
6. We can agree to disagree, except on:
A. Major theological issues, such as whether Jesus is the Son of God. Minor points, such as whether Job was a real character or an allegorical one, are not worth arguing about.
B. Timing of, number of, and major points in raising children.

Finally, most things in life are really not worth the stress and tension of an argument, let alone a fight. When a person has a strong reaction, it’s usually because there’s something else going on or because the issue at hand recalls an old hangup they’re struggling with. Gently pry at the root cause if someone has an unusual reaction to what you’re doing. That, combined with a humble heart, will lead to a lot more peace at home.