Valley of Decision

“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.”  Joel 3:14


My friend, Franklin, called today to invite me to a men’s retreat this weekend in Wausau.  One of the men had canceled and his paid slot was offered to me.

It is not the first decision presented for the weekend.

The UW Badgers men’s basketball team plays their first game of the season tonight. But my wife Twink was available to to go out on a date tonight, so feeling rather grown up and pleased with myself, I chose to go out with my wife rather than watch the Badger’s play St. John’s.

I had made another decision, too.

My friend Bob invited me to his place to  go over to cut and split wood.  I love to put on my boots and go out and stomp around, and so I told my friend in the summer if he ever needed help I would enjoy lending a hand.  On Wednesday, my friend told me he could use some help on Saturday about 9:00am; I said “sure” and then went about getting my other work done to free me up to play on Saturday morning.

Saturday plans are a good strategy for getting through the sermon-writing blues.

Saying “yes” to Franklin would mean saying “no” to Twink and Bob.  And then Twink told me she was planning to come out to Bob’s to stomp around with me.

There are times when we are placed in a position of choosing the least worst option, and other times we find ourselves choosing between several good options.  For some people, freedom is about having lots of options to choose from; for me, freedom is about the ability to decide which option to choose.

When my daughters’ were younger, I found that they would leave as many options open for a long as possible so they could choose the best among all.  There were many times when I wanted to schedule something to do with them when they wouldn’t commit because they didn’t want to close down their options, and other times when they said yes and later wanted to cancel our plans because a better options had presented itself.

I lectured  them on duty and responsibility and making sacrifices so as to be dependable, and yet here I was considering an option that would mean changing plans with people who were depending on me.

The situation reminds me of the the prophet Joel’s valley of decision, a place which sounds very much like the valley of the shadow of death in Psalm 23.

Few places are darker than the place where options overwhelm our ability to decided.  Making decision brings vitality; good decisions, even in those time when we are forced to choose the least worst option, move us out of the valley onto level ground.

I have a friend whose mother recently died. She is now going through decades of things that need to be sorted, each thing a decision, each object seeming to represent a how much she loved her mother.  She found treasures, to be sure, but also cancelled checks from 50 years ago and multiples of multiples–how many spatulas can one kitchen hold?

“I am not going to saddle my children with that task,” she said.  “Besides, my daughter assures me that if I don’t get rid of stuff she most certainly will.”

I have seen people put off the decision to prepare ahead of time, to sell the big house, go through the stuff, and choose to prepare for the next stage of life.  Often, the decision not to decide diminishes life; often, what was an option becomes an inevitability, and the grief and work the parent decides not to do multiplies when it is left for their children to do.

My decision about the weekend pales by comparison to life’s big decisions, but whether the decision is as small as what to do on a weekend or large as whether to dissolve a marriage, the principle of choosing the option that leads to life remains the same.

Choosing the option that leads to life is a complicated matter.  Ethicist consider how to choose the good, and moralist say that there is a good to be chosen.  The question is played out in culture on a large scale, and the matter seems always to be how we define life.

In my experience, it is in the small, day-to-day decisions that vitality is gained for the large, complicated decisions.  Life enhances life; the spiritual enhances the literal.

I decided to go to the men’s retreat with Franklin.

My wife is glad to have a the weekend to work, and she is glad to go out another time.  I called Bob and left a message for him.  I know that I can trust him to invite me out again.

So much for duty and responsibility 🙂