Decisions – 1/9/22

I have a very difficult time making decisions.  Whenever possible, I prefer to allow others to make decisions for me.  Even making minor decisions stresses me out, and I rely on my much more decisive spouse to make the call.  I do all the research, give her all the pros and cons, and leave the ultimate conclusion up to her.  Whether it be where we go on vacation, how we spend our money, or whether it is time to purchase a new vehicle, it is easier to let Kathy decide.  And besides, then I get out of taking the responsibility if things don’t work out.

Of all types of choices, whether to do something new is particularly hard for me, even since elementary school.  For some reason, I still remember struggling with whether I wanted to join cub scouts.  When someone came and spoke to my class about the camping trips and the ability to collect badges, I was initially excited.  But then I began to worry that I wouldn’t be a good cub scout.  I didn’t have any outdoor skills, had never been fishing or tied fancy knots.  And there didn’t seem to be a lot of badges related to what I did excel in – studying or playing video games.  And when the night came to go to the meeting at the school to sign up, I finally decided against it.  After all, who wanted to miss the Cosby Show for some iron on badges?

All of us are inundated with demands for our attention – from our families, our friends, our jobs, our church, the organizations we are involved in, the hobbies we pursue.  These demands for our attention call us to make choices – choices regarding how will spend our time, how we will invest our resources, how we will interact with others, how we will present ourselves.  We struggle with how we make choices which are needed to move forward in our lives.  How do we decide which changes to make in order to bring us closer to who we hope to be?  When presented with these demands for our attention, how do we make the right choice – the choices the Divine may be inviting us to make?

Choosing between competing interests is a central aspect of the parable from our first reading this morning.  Jesus describes a man who throws a large banquet, inviting many people in his community.  And when he extends the invitation, everyone agrees.  They make the choice to attend.  They like the idea of have a place at the banquet, partaking in the feast provided by the host, maybe having a place of honor to be seated at when they arrive.

But when the time for the banquet comes, these guests have a change of heart.  The host sends his servant out to tell everyone who was invited that the feast was ready.  And while it sounded good at first, the guests’ attention is now drawn to other things.   When presented with the option, they choose not to honor the commitment they made, they disregard the feelings of the host who has gone to all of this work and expense for them.  Rather than experience all the host has prepared, they make the choice to invest their time in what they feel will better satisfy their immediate desires, things they feel require more of their attention.

After facing the rejection of his invited guests, those whom the feast was prepared for, the host makes a new choice for himself.  He tells his servant to go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the disabled, the blind.  If those who were held in esteem made the choice not to come, the feast would still go on.  And those who were on the bottom rung of the ladder of power and prestige, whether it be because of their economic situation, their perceived religious impurity, their personal histories, or their standing in society, are able to taste of the host’s hospitality.

There is a lesson that we can learn from those who accepted the invitation of the host and those who did not.  It is those who were overly attached to status, those wanted to spend their time with the things attached to that status – their land, their possessions.  It was those who chose convenience, who sought to satisfy only personal needs, who ultimately reject the host’s invitation.  But it is those who do not have those strong attachments, those who recognize their limitations, who are more easily able to make the right choice –  to accept the generous invitation which has been extended.

Jesus here speaks to the motivation for many of the choices that we make in our lives.  When presented with two options – one which will best meet our own needs and one in which we weigh our own needs within the context of the greater good, the choice seems obvious.  The decisions we make often feel easy because it makes sense to make the choice which advances our standing, our interests.  But, even though these choices seem to make sense, what do these choices do to us spiritually?  Could there be rewards in making the counterintuitive choice – rewards which may not be practical but bring us to a deeper connection to the Divine?

The choices we each face are different.  The invitations which we are presented with vary.  While we are all invited to the same banquet, the means by which we arrive at that banquet are different.  Some of us may be called to do some internal work of healing from our past.  Others may be invited to take on a new role.  You may be invited to let go of attachments which keep you from a deeper spirituality.  Some of us may be invited to the work of healing relationships.  Others may be invited to new ways of understanding the Divine, new modes of deepening our faith and commitment.

The choice you will make today is the culmination of a difficult process over the past year.  We often want to think of a faith community simply as a place of solace, a place where we share community with like-minded people.  But a faith community is meant to push us to make decisions out of our comfort zones.  Brene Brown said, “I went back to church thinking that it would be like an epidural, like it would take the pain away… that church would make the pain go away. Faith and church was not an epidural for me at all; it was like a midwife who just stood next to me saying, ‘Push. It’s supposed to hurt a little bit.'”

I know this process has hurt a little bit, maybe more than a little bit at times.  Having discussions about the past and remembering difficult times, struggling with the realities of the present, and fearing an uncertain future is stressful and sometimes painful.   This transition process has revealed some painful feelings, laid bare some resentments which lingered.  It has revealed the ghosts which haunt NCC – ghosts which for some bring comfort and for others bring pain.  For some, it has led to wonderings about whether NCC is still a fit for you considering where you are on your spiritual journey.  The growing edges of the community have been revealed, and an awareness of the work which needs to be done to remain viable has emerged.  But it has also revealed how much this community means to many of you.   The fear which losing this community raises in you.

I think the reason decisions are so hard for me is because of the anxiety I feel over the consequences of my choice.  Decisions feel so final – like a fork in the road.  And once I choose a path I am forever forced to walk it even if it is ultimately the wrong one.  But what has helped me to gain comfort with decision making is seeing it less as a one-time event and more as an evolving process.  Less like a fork in the road and more like a puzzle.  Rather than seeing even the major decisions I face as a one-time event, I see them more as a table filled with a mass of pieces.

As they lay on the table, we cannot see the picture the pieces will form.  We look for the corner and side pieces to create a framework to fit the remaining pieces, and then begins the slow work of trying to see patterns, trying to get the remaining pieces to connect.  Throughout this process, some of those pieces will fit and others won’t.  But slowly a pattern begins to emerge, images begin to take shape.  It may take much longer than we hope for that picture to emerge, may involve a long process of trial and error to get to that place.  But little by little, progress is made.  We just have to keep sorting, have patience for that final picture to emerge, recognizing that even if it appears there will be no resolution, new possibilities will slowly emerge.

What we have been doing over the past year is identifying those corner pieces, putting all of the edge pieces together to create a picture for the future of NCC.  And regardless of the decision you make today, there will be many more pieces to place together for the full picture to emerge.  But what I know of this community is its ability to pull together, to support each other no matter how challenging that puzzle may end up being.

There is no wrong decision to make today.  No reason to walk away with guilt or regret regardless of what you select on that ballot.  We need only to remember the decisions which will ultimately be the most helpful to our spirits.  Decisions which demonstrate love and compassion both to ourselves and to others. Decisions which achieve a balance between hope and realism.  Decisions which are not guided solely by self-interest but take into consideration the well-being of others.  Decisions which may not be easy or offer the path of least resistance, but are life giving.  And if we make our decisions this way, we need to live with guilt.  We need not fear the consequences of our choices.