Childhood is filled with poor choices. When I was 9, there were only two other boys in my neighborhood. They were both several years older than me, so I tried to act cool to prove I could hang with them. One day, they asked me to steal some of my parents’ cigarettes. I didn’t want to do it. My parents gave me their trust, and I didn’t want to violate it. But I also felt the pressure from the boys and didn’t want to lose their friendship. So I went into the house and grabbed several smokes and a lighter. We ran into the woods. I acted as a lookout while they both smoked. It felt like a bad choice the whole time. It felt even worse when my mom came out to the woods and caught us.
I learned an important lesson that day. Choosing to impress someone rather than doing what’s right is a bad choice. My mom catching us reinforced it, but I think I would have learned the lesson even if she hadn’t. My conscience convicted me throughout the experience, telling me my choice was off. Fortunately, the consequences weren’t terrible in this case. However, as we get older, poor choices make a deeper impact on us and our families. We need to do our best to avoid them. Here are 5 common poor choices people make.
1. Focusing on Behavior Instead of the Heart
Did you make a New Year’s resolution? If so, how long did it last? If your answer is longer than two weeks, then congratulations—you’re in the minority. Changing the heart is what brings change that lasts; focusing on behavior doesn’t. Even the apostle Paul had trouble with this. He said in Romans 7:18, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” That’s not to say you can’t start with behavior, but if you want lasting change, then the heart has to be impacted. Look for the things in your heart that are keeping you from doing things differently. Is it fear, bitterness, laziness, selfishness? Figuring out how the heart needs to transform is the first step toward a better life.Forgiveness takes energy and hard work, but so does holding on to bitterness.
2. Choosing Bitterness Over Forgiveness
When someone wrongs you, it is much easier to nurture anger. It feels good and validating, and I suppose there is a part of it that can be healthy. Letting out the emotion and hurt in the right setting can be a cathartic experience. However, anger isn’t meant to be held onto. We need to let it go or we become stuck in our hurt and even entangled with the person who hurt us. We become bitter, and that causes our attitudes, outlooks, and thoughts to be negative. Forgiveness, while difficult, has the opposite effect. It heals our hurt and frees us from the captivity of brokenness. It also makes space for hope and love. Forgiveness takes energy and hard work, but so does holding on to bitterness. Put your effort into the things that lead to a better life.
3. Caring More About Being Right Than Having Good Relationships
I’ve said this before, but I’m a big believer that the key to a full life is found in relationships. When your number one goal is to be right, you will only see life from your own limited perspective. It’s one of those poor choices that breeds arrogance and self-righteousness. In the end, no one will want to be around you. Instead of focusing on being right, focus on understanding the other person’s perspective. This is especially true if the other person is your spouse.
4. Choosing Selfishness Over Sacrifice and Service
Years ago, I wrote an open letter to men who hate being dads. I thought I was being sensitive to their feelings while at the same time challenging them to let go of their former lives and embrace their current ones. I was a little shocked at the vitriol I received, being accused of not understanding how great their lives were before. Being a great dad demands sacrifice and a heart willing to serve. All of us would rather pursue our own selfish desires, but ultimately, that ends empty and lonely.
5. Choosing Style Over Substance
I was recently in a financial seminar, and the moderator asked, “True or false: If you look rich, you probably are rich.” The answer was categorically false. Most people go into debt to try to look like they have money. People who choose style over substance cut corners and look for shortcuts. The reality is there are no shortcuts to gaining maturity, character, wisdom, stature, knowledge, and a successful career.
Jesus said that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:24–27) The same is true when you choose style over substance. When difficult times come, there won’t be anything to hold up the façade.
Sound off: What are some other common poor choices people make?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you think it takes to make good choices?”