How well you can handle change depends on a trait called “ambiguity tolerance”. Someone’s ambiguity tolerance describes how well they handle a situation being unclear. Sometimes the situation is unclear because we don’t have detailed information. Sometimes the situation is unclear because it keeps changing. We all have different levels of being able to cope with a changing situation. This season of Coronavirus has given us both of these things: unclear details (sometimes on really important things) and a constantly changing situation.
It might not feel like it, but Jesus is still in control of the world, and we want to make decisions that put him at the centre of our lives. So how do you make decisions when the situation keeps changing? How should we make decisions when everything feels like it might change overnight?
Here’s three things I hope will help:
1. Identify your tendencies
When new information breaks, what is your reaction? You might be a hands-on person, immediately considering how the next round of restrictions affects you practically. You might have to sort through your own feelings first (and there’s a lot of them). Or maybe there’s just too much on your plate already and it barely registers.
It’s worth taking the time to notice what your defaults are when you have to make decisions. Ask yourself why you make decisions the way you do.
This step will help you think about how you think and will help to stop you from making decisions that are knee-jerk reactions (which aren’t bad by themselves, but they’re often only useful for the short-term). Write down the decision you have to make, along with what you think your default answer is to it.
2. Compare your concerns to the Bible
Visit your Bible. Paul tells Timothy that
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17, ESV)
Measure your decision against what the Bible tells us.
Maybe the answer isn’t in the Bible. That’s okay. Just because there’s not an exact answer, doesn’t mean the Bible won’t teach us how to make the decision. Investigate things like God’s character, the things Jesus values, and what a person who trusts in Jesus is like.
For example, the Bible doesn’t tell us whether it’s right or wrong to bulk-buy groceries. But it does tell us that our heavenly Father knows what we need and cares for us (Matt 6:25-30); it tells us that we need to be responsible for ourselves (2 Thess 3:7-10); and it tells us to look after others in our community who need help (Luke 10:25-37), which will all help us to decide whether to bulk-buy groceries.
The Bible is much thicker than the one piece of paper our concerns are written on, so let it have more weight in figuring things out.
3. Pray about the decisions you have to make
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord (James 1:5-7, ESV).
If God is the source of all wisdom, doesn’t it make sense for us to pray about decisions we have to make, even if our situation keeps changing? How much more should we come to the God who has wisdom for big and small choices—this God who has even the days of a pandemic numbered. There’s a level of self-awareness that prayer brings to the situation that we otherwise completely miss out on.
I am a procrastinator when it comes to making decisions. Perhaps you are a little like me in this: you tell yourself that you’ll come back to that decision later, because it’s too hard for right now. The problem with this idea is that not making a decision is still making a decision.
Have you ever left an RSVP to deal with later, only to realise that you’ve left it too late? The decision to answer later, even if it wasn’t the answer we were intending to give, is still an answer. In the interests of being responsible adults and stewards of the good things God has given us, it’s better to be an active participant in the situation rather than a passive one.
Keep doing step 1: ask why you’re making decisions a particular way. It adds an extra step, but at least it checks in and makes sure you’re not making short-term decisions when you need to consider long-term things too.
Make decisions, but learn to be okay with the details changing as the situation dictates. Sometimes that means that 10 per cent of what you had expected has to change. Sometimes you have to throw the whole thing out and start over. That’s okay. Proverbs 16:9 tells us that “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps”.
Trust in God’s sovereignty. He’s in control of things, which I am thankful for, because it feels like I have control over nothing right now. He’s also good, which means that our situation, no matter how bad, isn’t because God hates us or because he can’t stop bad things from happening. At the end of the day, even Coronavirus is going to show how Jesus was doing good things in the middle of it. The way that we decide things is part of that too.