Nov 132016 4 Responses

When Others Make Choices You Don’t Like

Life would be better if people would just do what I say.

I find myself thinking this on a regular basis and in many cases it is true. Every week, I spend a good amount of time trying to convince others to make obvious wise choices even when they are tempted to follow the voice in their head telling them that I don’t know the uniqueness of their situation and that what they are feeling is more right than what is universally true. It’s true, their lives would be better if they would just do what I say.

Of course, there are many situations in which doing what I say is the last thing people need to do. I can’t even run my own life half the time so they have no reason to listen to me pontificate about theirs. Beyond that, I regularly (and foolishly) ignore my own advice on regular occasions. It’s not unusual for someone close to me to say “didn’t you just preach about that they other day” when calling out the hypocrisy of me failing to do the very thing I say we should do. (See: How to Better Control Yourself)

The fact is, it’s really easy to run other people’s lives, but very difficult to run our own.

One of the great guarantees of friendship, partnership, and any type of relationship is that at times others are going to make decisions you don’t like. When they do, how do we respond?

3 Realities About the Choices of Others

1. You Can’t Figure It Out. When others make choices we don’t like, we often spend a great deal of energy trying to understand what they are doing. The desire to understand is noble, but in many cases it’s a goal we will never reach.

At times we can get a pretty good grasp on what others are doing, but in many situations we can’t. We lack all the information. We are evaluating things from a different perspective. We never fully know what is going on. But more than anything, we can’t figure out what others are doing because it’s not our story to figure out. Consider–in most situations we struggle to understand what we are doing. The Apostle Paul said, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.” If we can’t figure out ourselves, we should never expect to fully understand others.

2. You Can’t Fix It. We want to. Good people have a desire to fix many things. When others are making decisions we don’t like, we want to help them make the right decision. But we can’t. In part, we can’t because the decisions they are making aren’t necessarily wrong. Most of the choices which others make that we are think are wrong, aren’t wrong. They are different. Wrong and different are not the same. Wrong choices are those which should not be made. Different choices are those which we simply don’t like. People make different choices than we desire. (See: Do More Than Just Fix It)

Not only can we not fix the choices of others because they may not need fixing, but even if they do, they aren’t our choices to make. We have to honor the right of others to make their own choices. No matter our perspective, there are some decisions in which people are free to choose however they wish. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong. Far too often, we put moral values on decisions that are morally neutral. You aren’t morally obligated to date your boyfriend. If you want to break up with him, that is perfectly your right. We aren’t morally obliged to give to the next charity which asks for money. We can say “no,” without having to explain that we’ve already given at work. Many of life’s choices are morally neutral and because they are, people are free to choose however they wish.

3. You Can Have Faith In the Midst of It. While there is much about the decisions of others that we can’t control, there is one thing we have complete control over–how we respond. We can have faith in the midst of situations because we trust that God is at work.

While our lack of figuring it and fixing it can be frustrating, it should also bring a sense of freedom. Life is difficult enough, to have one less thing be our responsibility is a gift. The decisions that others make aren’t our concern. We have enough to worry about to spend too much time trying to control the uncontrollable. (See: When a Baby Cries in a Restaurant, Rejoice)

But beyond the freedom, the fact that we can’t control others should also add excitement. Many of our greatest opportunities for growth and change are the result of the decisions made by others. As we trust the sovereignty and providence of God, we respond to change with a trust that he is guiding our path. We can expect new adventures, lessons, and appreciations to result because of decisions that we don’t control.

There is no doubt that every person in your life will make some decisions which you don’t like. It’s an unavoidable aspect of life. We can try to figure it out, but sometimes we won’t. We can try to fix it, and most of the time we won’t. But we can always have faith in the midst of it and enjoy the process to see what will come.


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