My senior year of high school I received acceptance letters to my top two college choices. Both offered decent scholarships. Both were reputable liberal arts universities that excelled in my chosen major. Both had great on-campus activities and surrounding environment. One was close to family, and one was a few hours away. Yet instead of excited anticipation, I felt a surge of fear holding the two letters in my hands.
While I knew I was privileged to have a choice in schools, I felt crushed by the weight of the decision. As a high schooler, I heard the world’s (and even sometimes the church’s) pressure to work hard to choose the “right” college (and meet the “right” spouse and get the “right” job). Now that I had what seemed like two equally good options, I was terrified of choosing the wrong one.
I discussed the decision with my parents. My friends. My boyfriend. My teachers and coaches. Pretty much anyone who would listen. It was all I talked about for weeks. Eventually, I mentioned it to a pastor at my church, and before I could pull out my pro-con list, he stopped me and said, “Bethany, both are good schools. You can obey God and grow closer to him at either place. As long as you’re following him, there isn’t a wrong decision.”
Every day I make countless decisions—from small ones like what I serve for dinner to larger ones like whether to homeschool. To add to the confusion, I constantly see other moms on social media making choices different from mine.
Should I give my baby purees or try baby led weaning? I wonder after I see a mom post her child’s beautifully balanced plate. Should I be exercising more? I think as I watch a friend “bounce back” quicker than I am. Should I invest more time into my own creative calling? I muse with discontentment as I see a woman attain one of my goals. After scrolling through other people’s choices at the end of the day, I run mine through my head. Did I make the right choices today?
Oppressed by decision fatigue, I speculate how I’m supposed to even know the right choice on these gray areas of conscience. I’m envious of the Israelites on their journey out of Egypt into the Promise Land. God gave them a visible cloud that guided their very steps (Numbers 9:15-23). When it hovered above the Tabernacle, they stayed put. When it rose in front of them, they followed. Sometimes I wish my life was that “simple”—I wake up every morning with explicit signs directing each footstep I make that day, directing each decision I make for myself, my family, and my ministry.
Yet even with the visible reminder of God’s presence and guidance, the Israelites still tried to go their own way. Even when food fell from the sky and water spouted out of rocks, they still doubted God’s goodness and his power. Even when thunder shook a mountain and they beheld God’s terrifying glory, they still chose to sin and follow idols that their holy God abhorred.
This didn’t surprise God, though. He knew human hearts were so broken by sin that even “clear” signs could be misconstrued to meet self-centered desires. The Israelites needed more than external guidance, cleaning rituals, and laws written in stone to draw them to God. They needed their hearts to be changed. That’s why God later promised something better than a cloud in the sky, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).
The Israelites may have had a cloud by day and fire by night to guide them, but we as Christians have God’s Spirit in us—guiding us, protecting us, growing us. While we don’t always receive visible signs of God’s guidance, we can trust the invisible work of the Spirit inside of us, guiding our footsteps. When Jesus’ disciples were anxious about his departure, Jesus reminded them that they had a better helper coming, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever…You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
As we abide in the Holy Spirit—through the Word, through prayer, through the church—the Spirit leads us to the plan God has in store for us, and more importantly, he draws us closer to God himself. Elisabeth Elliot—a missionary, author, and speaker who had her fair share of detours in life—wrote, “Christ leads us right on, right through, right up to the threshold of Heaven. He does not say to us, ever, ‘Here it is.’ He says only, ‘Here am I. Fear not.’” We can make decisions without fear on missing out on God’s promise, because his greatest promise, his very presence, lives within us.
Eighteen-year-old Bethany believed that choosing the “wrong” college would make her miss out on all the good things God had planned for her. She thought that God’s will was a grand game of Clue that could be figured out with enough right guesses. But as I have seen God work through both joyful and difficult circumstances in my life, the Holy Spirit reminds me that the Christian journey isn’t about figuring out God’s plan, it’s about enjoying God himself. Any decision that draws me closer to God—and draws others closer as well—is a “good” and God-led decision.
Today I will have to make more decisions. I will plan our schedule for this weekend, balance the budget, prepare my family’s meals, and put more words on a page. I will make a thousand little decisions freely and faithfully—without anxiety that I might somehow miss God’s plan for me and my family by making one wrong choice. I will pray, read his Word, seek wise counsel, and maybe even make a pro/con list. But instead of feeling paralyzed by the choices I have to make like I did in high school, I will trust that the Spirit inside me is better than even cloud in the sky. Rather than forcing my feet towards a destination, he’s bringing my heart closer to him.