Flowers? Black? Teal?
I looked nervously at my wallet. I promise I went in there for other reasons, but when Target has a 50 % off sale for all their dresses and skirts, priorities change. I slowed, I halted, I surveyed. Before I knew it I was elbow deep in fabrics and unwieldy hangers.
After a swift hunt, the choice was down to three dresses:
Flowers, black, or teal.
Romantic, classic, summery.
10 dollars, 10 dollars, or 10 dollars.
Which one, which one?
Decisions are hard.
I am in a choosing season. As I run panting towards the finish line of college, many other paths open broad ahead of me. I strain my eyes to imagine what could lie around the corner of each decision, and find myself both exhilarated and terrified to find that I’m not sure where the paths will lead. I have never been so aware of the impact on my decisions.
Being in this season has made me consider how much of life is made of choices.
Every day, our lives are crammed with decisions. Tomorrow morning, I will choose what to have for breakfast. I will choose how to do my hair, and contemplate cutting it… that is a choice that is yet to come. I will choose whether to take the shuttle or to walk. I will choose between an Americano and black tea. I will choose to read either So Brave, Young, and Handsome or Tolkien and the Great War on the train into Los Angeles.
Someday, I will choose where to go to grad school. Where to live. Who to marry.
As my brother says (and many before him), We are the sum of our choices.
Each day we choose, and with each choice we take a step further on a path whose destination we cannot see.
To choose is to trust.
In choosing my breakfast tomorrow, I trust it will nourish and not sicken me. In choosing to do my hair, I trust it will look best and stay situated. In choosing an Americano, I trust it will better keep me awake.
In choosing a grad school I trust I will learn, grow, sharpen, and gain further opportunities.
In choosing who to marry, I trust they will be faithful.
To choose and to trust is to be human.
In this old world of mist and mystery, our lives are doomed and blessed to be formed by choices and best laid plans, and guided by the invisible hand of fate, and oh, we hope so deeply, the Lord.
Tied up in the human experience of choosing and trusting is benefit and betrayal. Often, we benefit from our decisions. The breakfast nourishes. The Americano enlivens. The grad school grows. The spouse loves.
But choices can also betray.
A chocolate croissant once betrayed me. I consumed it happily, guzzled a latte, and was in a state of abandon to the deliciousness of its chocolatey center. It gave me the worst food poisoning I have ever experienced. My continued affection for chocolate croissants is an act of faith.
But there are other kinds of betrayals. You choose to love and so to trust some of your happiness to someone, only to be kicked in the teeth and left in the cold. You choose to work hoping to see the results blossom, only to find yourself back at the tiller, with soil as hard as stone. You choose to pray, but after a while all you hear is your voice, and you wonder if anyone is listening.
Experiencing betrayal makes one choice-shy and trust-shy. To choose seems like signing your name to a blank contract. It could hold pain or joy eternal, but perhaps you’d rather not chance it, so you don’t. I call it the skeptics choice: Slowly, you begin to choose not to choose. You let life wash over you, but never again will you have to be hurt for choosing and trusting. Even beliefs you hold with an open hand, unwilling to be ashamed if you are wrong. But of course, this is a choice. It is a self choice; you begin to trust only what you can guarantee, which, you will soon find is precious little.
I have made the skeptic’s choice before. I remember one night, laying in bed with a red-nosed, uncomfortably fevered cold when the thought came to my head: What if God doesn’t protect the people you love. It was a feverish thought, and absurd since no-one I knew was doing anything particularly risky. My life is one of comfort and safety compared to most of the world. But there it was hanging in my mind, frank and cruel.
Trusting God is tricky thing. I accepted that, hypothetically, anything God is always protecting my loved ones. But what if something happens to one of them? Is God cruel? Revoking His protection? Perhaps He wasn’t there. Perhaps it would be better not to trust at all. These were nighttime thoughts.
But choice and trust are unavoidable. Choice and trust are human.
My old friend Lewis says it well:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).
The choice of trust and vulnerability has been present since the garden of Eden. Since the dawn of this old world, the question Can you trust Him? has beat in the heart of every human. And, oh, how quickly we, no I, rush to shout no! and lock up my heart. When we do that, we cut ourselves off from the very giver of life and comfort, turning inwards to ourselves for security. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a human, it’s that I’m not a very good source of eternal solace.
The journey I’ve been on, and continue to be on, is to learn to choose and to trust God. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, submitted himself to the Father, the good Father, trusting that he was just that. Where Eve reached for the fruit, Jesus said “Man does not live on bread alone.” Where the Israelites demanded God show his presence by a miracle, Jesus said “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus’ choice to trust lead him on a road to the cross. Does this not seem like the ultimate betrayal of choice? Yet through his trust, came new life.
My journey of faith has come through encountering this Jesus who both radically demonstrates the trust that was intended for human nature, and performs it for me when I cannot. And I am invited into that trust. If I seem like I’m rambling, it’s because I’m still learning to trust, and I think will be learning all my life.
That is part of the trusting: realizing you will never have “arrived” in this life. Nonetheless…
I am learning what it means to be human.
I am learning to choose.
I am choosing to trust.
What are you choosing?
By the way, I chose the flowery dress.
Joy Clarkson is a featured columnist and the Director of Marketing at Humane Pursuits. She is a graduate of Biola University, and also spent time as a visiting student at Oxford University studying C.S. Lewis, Literature, and Theology. Her days are spent helping people and companies tell their stories well, pondering, writing, singing, and drinking too much Yorkshire Gold tea.