Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gray Area Decisions

I'm really struggling with a concept right now, and to say it's stressing me out would be beyond obvious. It's about rules. Rules society makes upon each other, rules we create for our families, rules we impose on our neighbors. Lots of "rules."

Now, to be clear from the get-go, I'm not talking about God's Rules (a.k.a. commandments, covenants, etc.). Those are infinite. Non-negotiable. However! Even God's Rules were met with exception (Nephi and Laban is a good example, although it would be prudent and wise to point out that his is the only story I can think of right now --if you have more, by all means, share! I'm forgetful now-a-days).

I'm mostly referring to rules that have no bearing upon Gospel Obedience. The gray area where Bishops and handbooks and Prophets refuse to tread, allowing, instead, for the Holy Ghost to guide each individual and each family to make needed choices. There are plenty of those --and plenty of "right" answers.

Examples of gray (or grey, if you prefer) areas: Where to live, how many children to have, where to work, where to gain an education, when to allow children access to cell phones, make-up, driver's licences, etc., what time to eat meals, when to go to bed, how to divide up chores, where to give birth, how to be buried, when to exercise (or to even exercise), where to purchase food/clothing/furniture, when to do visiting teaching, where to vacation, etc. and so on, and so on, and so forth.

I really don't think God cares about a lot of the ways we go about living our doing-our-best lives. I mean, He does (of course He cares!) but what I mean is that He understands how we are all different, we are all on different paths at different times, and how we all need different trials to learn different lessons and any different given time. He understands that for one woman, the choice to give birth at home makes sense, but for another, it doesn't.

What is stressing me out, however, is when the rules of society/friends collide with the rules of me/my family that are not mentioned in God's Rules. Or if my desire to change the rules collide with my husband's desire not to (or vice versa). This presents a problem because there is no black/white answer, but the answer is very black and white. Did that make sense? Let me illustrate it another way. Let's say that Joe Schmoe has decided that they need to have another baby, but Jane Schmoe has decided they are done having babies. How in the world can one compromise in that situation? (Note: That's not my situation, just fyi). Either you have a baby, or you don't. You can't "compromise" something like that, you know?

I mean, let's say you need to buy a car. Now THAT is a decision that can have compromise. Same with house purchasing. What to name a child (there's always something to agree on). Where to go for Girl's Night Out. Clothes shopping with the pre-teen. These things have compromises embedded --they may be hard to find, but it can happen!

But there are still plenty of gray area decisions (not God's Rules) that are black/white in the answers. Especially when it comes to parental or marital decisions.

Right now I'm struggling with one that shouldn't be a struggle, but it's a black/white outcome. I think that's why I'm struggling. There is no half-way with this one --either we do it, or we don't. Frankly, I don't think the decision either way will result in major catastrophe, but I'm worried I will make the WRONG decision, regardless. Yes, I've made it a matter of prayer. Yes, I've pondered for a long time. I've come to the conclusion, however, that this is simply something Heavenly Father is letting me decide on my own (He does that sometimes). In a way, I don't like it. I appreciate the trust, but I'm not sure if I want it, you know?

Which brings me to another point: Making gray area decisions that people disagree with. This one is a toughie. I've personally been hurt by others who are offended I do not abide by their "rules" and I've hurt others because they do not abide by mine. It cuts both ways. In fact, right now, I'm in the midst of maybe losing one of the greatest friends I've ever had because neither of us know how to approach this subject with the graciousness that it desperately requires.

Another thought: What is more important? Gray area decisions or love?

It seems obvious, doesn't it? Then how come we are all so quick to defend the gray area decisions?

How have you handled gray area decisions with black/white answers? Maintaining friendships and marriages and familial relationships amid the difference of opinion? Has it seemed to have gotten harder or easier as you've gotten older?


Becca said...

Here is my take on God's laws, and all decision making. God's laws are not unbreakable (obviously - people break them all the time). What is set in stone are the consequences of breaking the laws and commandments of God.

So, when we are faced with any decision, all we can do is weigh the consequences of each path, and then choose the path which we believe will have the most favorable outcome for us.

When God says "Thou shalt not kill" what He is really telling us is that taking the life of another human being has very serious consequences (as do the other commandments). He even explained that to Nephi, "Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief." - so in this situation, the consequences of not taking Laban's life were more dire than the consequences of taking Laban's life.

In our own every day choices that we have to make, I believe God wants us to do the same thing. Weight the consequences we know will come from our actions (or we can reasonably expect from our actions) and then choose the path that will lead to the most favorable outcomes. Sometimes we have to look at what the eternal consequences will be, instead of what the "here and now" consequences will be in order to make the best decision.

I think it has gotten easier to handle those situations because as I have "aged" I feel like I am better able to see "farther down the road." I know that when I think about only the "hear and now" consequences, I get kind of discouraged about making those choices, but when I really keep an eternal perspective, I feel like the decisions are easier to make.

Good luck with your friend. Relationships do require graciousness, but remember that you can only do what is right (for you) and if people don't understand that or don't want to understand that, then there isn't much you can do but pray for them (I do a lot of praying for friends I have lost due to decision I have made that they didn't agree with, but I knew were the best for me.

Hope that helps...

Becca said...

my goodness I should edit my comments before I hit submit... too many typos. Bother...

Julie said...

I like your thoughts, Becca.

I discovered that I was wrong about a grey area decision within my own home recently. It was interesting to see the consequences of everyone doing my way and me seeing that it was wrong. But thankfully that was a situation where the end result wasn't a black or white -- we just changed our minds.

I see your point about some grey area decisions having black and white consequences. It's a really hard thing. We're actually going through one of those decision making situations right now, too. Believe me, I'm a little more wary about my thinking I'm right on this one after seeing how wrong I was with the grey area experience I shared in the previous paragraph. I realize that I am often wrong and that I often think my opinion is the only one that matters. I'm becoming SO much better with this as I age, but within my own home it's still a struggle for me.

As for the friends situation, I'm sorry you're struggling with it. I haven't had real friend issues for many years...maybe I'm not an attentive enough friend? Hmmm..
Anyway, I hope you feel happy in the decision you make.

And with the even more weighty ones you're making at home. Those are the most important ones. (Was that a grey opinion?)

Love you as always.

Cheryl said...

Agree to disagree. I have a sister in law and we disagree on just about everything (the black/white laws, God's laws, grey areas etc). She has chosen not to believe what I do according to the gospel etc... BUT she and I have such a great relationship. We have the BEST and liveliest discussions and always come out loving each other and still being friends. It is an amazing relationship because we both love each other enough to give one another our space and own opinions. I have learned so much from her.

Fisher Family said...

I REALLY want to know what the "grey" area is?????? BUT, without knowing those decisions are always hard. This is what I have learned... we will make MISTAKES. That is part of life. But each decision opens a new path to change. Sometimes it's change we like and sometimes it's not, but the Lord is aware of what we need. I have often wondered about choices I've made or that Steve and I have made that have led us to where we are and have learned and know these 3 things: He knows me/us, He will ALWAYS give me what I need (not nececssarily want), and He LOVES me. Things will work out, whether you can see it now or not. Have Faith.

Handsfullmom said...

No advice on how to handle this, except try to be loving and kind whatever the final decision is. A family science professor told me once that when he and his wife couldn't agree on a decision, he'd ask her how much it meant to her on a scale of 1 to 10, then he'd share how much it meant to him on that same scale. Then whoever the decision meant more to would get their way. So, for instance, if she wants green carpet and it's an 8 in importance to her, and he wants blue but only cares about a 4, the green carpet has it. I think it's a little harder, though, when the decisions are more important than that!

Good luck.

Ben Peck said...

In group therapy, we had a saying, "Preserve the relationship and your integrity." Depending on the relationship, and, like has been stated, the possible outcomes of a decision--do you best to preserve the relationship and your integrity.

Janelle said...

I definitely had a time where I wanted an answer from God and He withheld one. We were on our own and it felt a lot like being nudged out of the nest too soon.

But we made our decision and the consequences were both terrible and great!

Rebekah said...

Wow. This has been on my mind constantly as of late. I'm learning that some decisions are "Pick your Battles" kind of decisions in order to maintain harmony and/or eliminate contention. Some decisions are more important and need to be dealt with boldly. But how do you decide? How do you decide when your spouse, friends, family disagree? Prayer. Intuition. Personal revelation. Sometimes trial and error. I'm right there with you (probably behind you)learning as I go.

Cheryl said...

Thanks, you guys! I really appreciate all of your thoughts. They have helped a lot.

Michelle said...

My thought on this is that it's often about the process, not the actual decsion. If it is a black/white in terms of consequences, but not in terms of eternal salvation, then it's likely more about the relationship and figuring out how to work together. With minor things like color of carpet, I think 1-10 scales and such are fine, but when it comes to 'biggies' I think time and patience with the process is often the need. Maybe it's a timing thing. It could be that the same decision another time would be more clear and sometimes I think the lack of agreement can itself be an answer.

I liked this from the Osguthorpes. Find the word "decisions" and read the several paragraphs that reflect their thoughts on this. I think discernment can help us know the difference between situations where compromise could be engaged in, but what they talk about makes sense to me.