By Leah Bruskewitz
When I was a teenager, I had serious doubts about my ability to make decisions. Simple choices like pursuing both music and athletics when they seemed so different from each other, attending dances with guys who were shorter than my 6-foot tall frame, which lunch table to sit at in high school, and with whom I should associate myself causes hours of questioning and doubt. I lived with an ever-lingering debate in my mind that my decisions were not right, and I would hesitate and ponder everything until the last minute.
Usually my decisions regarded inconsequential things. Something as trivial as wearing a short versus a long skirt to a formal dance caused me to stress out and worry. Why? Not because I thought I might be colder in a short skirt or lead a young man to impure thinking, but because I thought others would judge me by what I wore. Other’s opinions of my decisions were more important to me than comparing my decisions to the values I had been taught. I wish I had known that other’s opinions of my decisions should not determine the life I lead.
This is not an easy concept to grasp as a teenager. Many teenagers’ lives revolve around the opinions, positive or negative, of their peers. As a teen, you search for approval from your peers because their praise matters so much to you. Hearing approval from your parents just doesn’t seem to have the same effect. But the unsettling feeling you get in your stomach because you made a decision based on other’s opinions as opposed to your own values is just as bad as the stress of trying to live up to what you think others think of you. You alone have to live with the decisions you make. The people you’re trying to please aren’t going to step up and take your consequences for you.
If you decide to speed down a road because the car behind you is tailgating you and you get pulled over, you are responsible for the ticket, not the person pressuring you to drive faster. That the reality of life, but that’s not always an easy reality to see.
I considered peers’ reactions to my decisions to the point where I debated ending an unhealthy relationship because the guy’s friends might look down upon me for breaking up with him. It didn’t matter that I was unhappy in the relationship and compromising my values. All that mattered was what others might think of me. It would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress and worry had I realized then what I know now: my decisions are just that, mine, and I am free to make decisions based on what I know to be true or on what I think might be true. Either way, I’m going to live with my decisions for the rest of my life.
Nowadays, I still weigh my options thoroughly before making a decision. But the difference lies in the fact that I no longer look to the ambiguous opinions of others. Instead, I look to God for my values and my faith. I pray that the decisions I make will reflect God’s will in my life.
Philippians 4:8-9 describes the correct foundation for decision making quite well: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned from me, or seen in me–put it into practice.”
I’ve learned that it’s not others’ opinions that should determine the life I lead, but that God’s opinion is the only one that counts. And having such a solid foundation makes the right decision that much easier to see.
Leah Bruskewitz is a 1999 graduate of Milwaukee Lutheran High School. She now serves as a physical education and current issues teacher at Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights, Illinois.