When John Ortberg’s oldest daughter, Laura, was in high school and thinking about choosing a college, she was anxious about the process. She had a first choice, of course, the school she really liked, but she worried a lot about getting accepted there and wondered what she could do if she were rejected. Where will I go? she wondered. What does God want me to do?

It reminded Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California, of a time when he wrestled with his own indecision over what career he would pursue. He fervently prayed to God for direction and was frustrated to the point of tears. He wanted a clear sign. Just tell me what to do, God, and I’ll do it, I prayed. Show me Your will.”

The response from heaven? Silence.

“Sometimes, it seems God isn’t all that interested in giving clear and obvious signs, especially when we demand them of Him,” Ortberg said. Our children will face similar big decisions, wondering if God has a direction. We can help our kids navigate crossroads by teaching that there are very good reasons God seems to be giving them the silent treatment.

If you’re looking for guidance in your decision-making processes, sometimes you may need to bounce ideas off of a professional counselor.

If you’re looking for guidance in your decision-making processes, sometimes you may need to bounce ideas off of a professional. This could include speaking with a Christian therapist like Michael Walters, at Encompass Counseling Center. He can help you avoid what Ortberg calls the “Door Number Whatever” syndrome. Its origin is from an old television game show in which contestants tried to guess where the “Big Deal” was hidden behind one of three doors.

“I think young people often see big decisions in a similar way,” Ortberg said. “They’re very interested in the big prize—the best school or job, the perfect mate—and they bring God into the decision not because they are genuinely seeking His direction, but because they just want to find the “right” door. When decisions have potential for a big payoff or a big downside, they want to be relieved of the anxiety of making such a consequential decision.”

Give me a sign, God, they pray. Help me find the Big Deal.

Ortberg said we must encourage our kids to avoid the pressure of always seeing life’s choices as being behind the right or wrong door. In most situations, how we go through the door matters more than which door we go through.

Walters, at Encompass Counseling, agrees. He said that the choices we make—as children or adults—don’t nullify the importance of seeking God’s will. But we shouldn’t get hung up on circumstances, seeing God’s will only in those terms.

“God is more interested in who we are as people than which ‘door’ we go through... if we’re growing in our faith, we don’t need to worry about choosing the ‘wrong door.’”

“God is more interested in who we are as people than which ‘door’ we go through,” Walters said—adding that if we’re growing in our faith, we don’t need to worry about choosing the ‘wrong door.’ God is primarily interested in what kind of people we become. His real intentions for our lives are a life of holiness and blamelessness before Him (Ephesians 1:4). God longs for everyone to become people of excellent character and divine love. Help your children recognize that God’s primary will for their lives is the person they become, not the circumstances they inhabit.”

Ortberg said that uncertainty builds character: “I’ll sometimes ask parents, ‘Would you want your kids to always just do whatever you tell them? Wear these clothes. Date this person. Go to this school.’”

Some parents jokingly respond, “That sounds great.” But they soon see Ortberg’s point: Persons of excellent judgment, will, and character are formed by having to make their own decisions.

“God is not a helicopter parent, swooping in to remove inconvenience. He is actually quite comfortable with having people travel the wilderness, enduring all kinds of uncertainty as they wrestle with a decision.”

“Sometimes Christian communities are more like Christian bubbles—comfortable and convenient,” Ortberg said. “It’s easy for kids to develop a belief that if they’re following and trusting God, they deserve a successful life that doesn’t include anxiety or pressure, a life where they needn’t face the discomfort of not knowing what to do next. But our God is not a helicopter parent, swooping in to remove inconvenience. He is actually quite comfortable with having people travel the wilderness, enduring all kinds of uncertainty as they wrestle with a decision.”

Walters has seen this scenario play out numerous times in his counseling sessions with parents and teens. Sometimes they’ll ask heaven for direction, and it seems like God is saying, “I don’t care.” That doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about us. It means that God cares more about spiritual growth than about colleges and cars and careers—which is of course what we would expect from a truly loving God.

“God is in the character-formation business,” Ortberg said, “and there’s no better path to character formation than having to live with the consequences of our decisions. Sometimes it’s painful and uncomfortable. But this is how we grow.”

Scripture doesn’t instruct us to seek God’s specific direction. Instead, Scripture tells us to seek things like His truth, His light, His wisdom.

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Both Ortberg and Walters emphasize that Scripture doesn’t instruct us to seek God’s specific direction. Instead, Scripture tells us to seek things like His truth, His light, His wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let Him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given Him” (James 1:5). God is in the business of equipping us to make decisions, not make them for us.

“When my kids pray for God’s will in a decision, I tell them not to expect a supernatural postcard from heaven,” Ortberg said. “Yes, God can work that way. Sometimes He has specific assignments—like Moses taking on Pharaoh—and God makes those missions clear. But much of the time, wisdom itself will help us know the right course—if there actually is a ‘right’ course.”

Walters knows that as parents we must also help young people avoid turning discernment of God’s will into a very individualistic, self-focused thing. God leads people individually but also corporately—giving guidance and wisdom to the body of believers.

Ortberg has encouraged his kids to find a few wise people in their lives who love God, who know them well, and are willing to speak the truth. And to get together with them on a regular basis to ask and answer questions:

  • What makes you feel alive?
  • What are you good at doing?
  • Why would you think about doing this?
  • Why would you not?

“Kids can better discern the will of God with trusted mentors,” Ortberg said.

A lack of a clear sign from heaven regarding which door to choose does not mean either God or someone else has failed, Ortberg and Walters believe. On the contrary, they know that it is evidence of God’s love for us.

“He knows we mature more from having to make a decision than if we were to get a clear, commanding memo from heaven,” Ortberg said.

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If you’re looking for guidance in your decision-making processes, sometimes you may need to bounce ideas off of a professional counselor.

References

Ortberg, J. (2018). “What Should Kids Choose: Discovering God’s Will in Big Decisions.” Focus on the Family. Retrieved from https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/parenting-challenges/decision-making/what-should-kids-choose-discovering-gods-will-in-big-decisions

Walters, M. (2018). “God is more interested in who we are as people than which ‘door’ we go through.” Encompass Counseling Center. http://encompasscounselingcenter.com/

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