When I was six years old, the Ideal Toy Company produced a doll that stole my heart. Enamored with the company’s advertisements, I dreamed of the day the Kissy doll would be my own. On the day before my birthday, my mother announced we would be going to the store. Heart pounding, I settled into the back seat as my dad pointed the car toward Sears and Roebuck. Once inside, we headed for the toy aisle. There, in front of a large display of the sparkling Kissy dolls in their red-and-white gingham dresses, my mother offered me a choice.
“Which size would you like?” she asked, pointing out the 16-inch and 22-inch models.
My thoughts raced. Of course I wanted the larger doll. But what if she cost more? What if my choice would place a burden on the family? We didn’t have much money. Would choosing the larger doll be a selfish decision to make?
“It’s totally up to you,” my mother said. “Pick whichever one you like the best.”
I left the store with the 22-inch model, well aware that I held a precious thing.
And, indeed, I did—and not just because of the doll. The ability to make a choice is a sign of trust, a gift of power, and a bestowing of responsibility on the part of the person who is making the offer.
As I grew older, the implications of my choices grew deeper and more significant. As a freshman entering college, I debated on the major that would determine my future. My love of science drew me into the field of medical technology. But by the beginning of the second semester, I decided that I didn’t want to be locked in a lab somewhere for the rest of my life, and I changed my major to biology. And then there was the morning in freshman composition class with Professor Ganter reciting poetry. Was English to be my destiny? Eventually, though, I found my way into a third-grade classroom at Browning Elementary School and grew starry eyed over the thought of teaching.
With each change of my major came both excitement and fear. I found my niche in teaching, but even then, I wondered whether this was really the right choice for me. Can I remain in this field for the rest of my life and stay productive and fulfilled?
The decades marched by as I combined my flair for writing with a love of teaching and a strong interest in science. I wrote, I taught, and I mentored others. And the gift of choice brought with it increased responsibility.
In 2009, I found myself at my mother’s bedside in a short-term care facility. Battling cancer, she bravely endured physical therapy designed to help her regain strength, but her body was rapidly weakening.
“What does the family want to do?” the doctor quietly asked us in the corridor. “We can continue to work with your mother here, or you can take her home and we can send hospice in to help with her care.”
The wonderful, terrible power of choice! We stood rooted to the spot, painfully aware of the heavy weight of the two options before us. In the end, we took Mom home, set up a hospital bed in the living room, and spent the next week pointing out the Christmas lights shining outside the front window and telling her how much we loved her.
what if we couldn’t choose?
Choices. Would my life be easier without having to make them? Definitely. But what kind of a life would it be? Stripped of options, I would be little more than a robot: This is the food you will eat. These are the clothes you will wear. Here is the job you will do. These are the friends you will have. This is the person you will marry.
Beyond that, a prewritten script for my life would strip me of my soul: These are the thoughts you will think. This is the shape of your faith. You will believe this. You will not contemplate that. You will accept this. You will reject that. Questions are unnecessary. Follow the road already marked out for you!
Praise God that the gift of choice was a paramount part of His plan for human beings from the very beginning! Placing two prominent trees in the Garden of Eden, He presented our first parents with a choice that would mark the history of our planet with both freedom and sorrow. “And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9, NKJV*).
Two trees. One signified life; the other death.
Two trees. One powerful choice.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’ ”(verses 16, 17).
An offer of choice is a sign of trust, a gift of power, and a bestowing of responsibility. The moment God presented Adam with the freedom to make his own decisions, He gave him the gift that made him truly human. Just as the breath of life, breathed into his nostrils, sent life to his physical body, so the gift of choice awakened his sensitivities and gave life to his soul.
And so we, the children of Adam, bear both the weight and the joy of our heritage. We pursue our goals, strive for our dreams, and agonize at the crossroads. Painfully aware of the significance of our weightier decisions, we wrestle inwardly over who to marry, which job to accept, where to live, when to have children, and sometimes whether our parents should live or die!
It is only by faith that the journey is manageable. To put it another way, we should pray about our choices and move slowly, where possible, allowing God to guide us to the right choice.
Throughout my struggles, I often think of my dad’s philosophy, which shaped his life with optimism, no matter the circumstances. Whenever I wrestled with a difficult decision, he offered the advice he lived by: “Pray about it. Put it all in the Lord’s hands. Put your trust in Him, and then move forward. And never look back.”
Those last words were important to him. “Just keep looking forward,” he’d emphasize. “Never look back.”
Not looking back is the hard part of making a choice, because we’re afraid we may regret the choice we made—and sometimes we do! In difficult circumstances, we are tempted to torture ourselves for what appear to be the wrong choices we have made: Did I make the right decision? Would my life be easier now if I had done this or said that? Should I have chosen the smaller doll, picked the other major, or tried harder to keep Mom alive?
Without faith, our choices can become guilt-laden burdens. We view the heavy weight of our decisions in light of their impact not only on ourselves but also on those we love: What is going to happen to my spouse, my son, and my daughter if I take this job? Now that I have taken it, my son’s grades are plummeting, my husband can’t find a job, and my daughter stays in her room. Did I make the right choice? Did I really hear God’s voice? Should I have stayed in an unfulfilling position to save my family? Did I miss the still, small Voice? Did I somehow get the message wrong?
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, He could have imposed the death penalty immediately; but He did not. He offered them a way of escape. Jesus would take their death penalty on Himself.
At times of decision, we need to stop and take a deep breath of faith. Remember that God gave us the wonderful, terrible power of choice to make us human, give us souls, and render us fully alive. Putting our hands in His, we can pray for His guidance in making the decision and then move forward and never look back.
the most important choice
The greatest choice that any of us will ever make is how we will relate to Jesus and His Father. Should I accept Jesus as my Savior? Should I invite Him to place His Holy Spirit in my mind and heart and give me the new birth that will transform my thinking and my attitudes? And how about God’s laws—His will as it’s outlined in the Bible? Will I choose to adopt His way of life as the guide for my life? Our eternal destiny lies in these critical choices.
Once we make the decision to place ourselves in God’s hands, there will be a continual need to make choices about our thoughts and behavior. God’s law, His Bible, tells me that I should behave and think like Him, while Satan keeps offering me his way of life. But I have to choose between them. These can be the toughest choices of our lives, and frankly, we cannot make them on our own. We need the help of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our minds and hearts in order to make the right ones.
Often we’re faced with the choice of God’s way as opposed to the options that Satan presents us with—in other words, whether to do something we know is wrong. And when Satan’s offer pulls us hard, we can only make the choice to follow God’s way by asking Him to give us the courage to choose His side. The apostle Paul reminds us that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Our struggle against sin and temptation will continue as long as life lasts on this earth—and, often, our eternal destiny rests with the choices we make!
For all of these choices to be truly bearable, faith and choice must go hand in hand. Without the gift of choice, we are not fully human. Without the gift of faith, we lack hope and confidence. Together they give us enormous possibilities, fill us with trust, and lend optimism to life.
Choice comes with power—a wonderful, terrible power. Faith in God’s guidance and His power set us free to make sense of the road ahead and the one behind. I invite you to make the ultimate choice—accepting Jesus as your Savior and God’s Word as the guide for your life.
* Scripture marked NKJV is taken from the New King James Version®.
Sandra Doran, EdD, is the curriculum and creative director of Three Angels for Kids. She lives in Land O’Lakes, Florida.