When You Stop Agonizing Over Decisions

finish lineYesterday, I ran my second full marathon. Ever since I ran my first marathon, I’ve been eyeing the calendar, looking for a season that I could once again squeeze in the time-intensive training. This time, I wanted to run my local marathon. I wanted to run along the familiar course, see the familiar sites, and be cheered on by people I knew.

This wasn’t exactly a season conducive to training. I could just barely visualize the time in my schedule. The school year started, proving to be quite a challenge. Not long after, my grandmother passed away. Other personal events complicated things further. Plus, my first several long runs were more physically and mentally difficult than I had previously experienced.

There were several times that I asked myself whether it was wise to continue training. Every time I came close to talking myself out of it, I talked myself right back into it again. I often reminded myself that the stress from all of these challenges was the reason why I needed to run.

This fairly mild decision-making process was markedly different from when I decided to run my first long-distance race four years ago. As I contemplated my first half-marathon, I was riddled with doubt. There weren’t tangible consequences that I was concerned about. I was coming out of a personal season ridden with anxiety, and I feared regret. I was scared of making any decision that I might later wish I could take back. It was an irrational fear of irrational feeling.

Much of the anxiety stemmed from a fear of making a “wrong” choice. To have that kind of anxiety, you have to believe there is always a right choice and a wrong choice. For me, my belief in “always a right or wrong” was directly connected to the belief that God had a will in every situation, and that it was my job to figure out what that was and to follow it. It came from believing that you could (and should) pray over every decision–from what cereal to eat to which movie to watch or whether to go on a date with someone. That kind of “ceaseless prayer” showed true holiness.

As I tried to decide about that first half-marathon, my counselor tried to help me see that it wasn’t a “right vs. wrong” choice. There were factors to consider in making a good choice–a wise choice–but either way, there were no eternal consequences.

Four half-marathons and two full marathons later, my decision-making process looks and feels much healthier. I can see my choices as my choices to make, and can evaluate and acknowledge the real factors involved. I don’t expect grand signs from above or spiritual consequences for a slight misstep. Instead, I look at the information God has already given me, and I use the mind and heart he intended for me to use navigate life.

It would have been ok if I hadn’t run the marathon this year. I would have had more time for other people, I may have been less tired, and I probably would have written more than one blog post in the month of October! I wouldn’t be using up a precious personal day off of work to recover today. Although I would have been disappointed not to run, I would have gotten over it.

It’s also ok that I did run it. I had some truly lovely training runs in the Pennsylvania fall, and had the chance for some great conversations and camaraderie with friends in my running group. As I ran the first several miles yesterday, I was near-tears happy to finally be running the full marathon along the roads and sights I have become so fond of. The weather was just about perfect, and although I wish I would have been slightly faster, I had no major setbacks. I was relieved that I was able to enjoy myself rather than spending the whole time deriding myself for not going faster. Kind friends came out to cheer me on, including several people from my church who surprised me. A dear friend ran the last five miles with me, just like I had done for her in the same marathon two years before.

Certainly, there are some decisions worth agonizing over. But decisions that truly justify the extreme anguish of agony do not come often, especially in the privileged lives that most of us live. I do not believe God would have created us with mental and emotional capabilities just to let them lay dormant. Our decisions will never be perfect, but they will never be anything at all if we live in fear of making them.

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2 Responses to When You Stop Agonizing Over Decisions

  1. Sarah Fox says:

    I LOVE you Emily!!!

  2. Tim H. says:

    Congrats! You should look into doing some trail 50ks. (whats another 5 miles, right?) for real. Once you get into trail running, if you’re like me, you’ll never want to run a road race again!

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