Friendly Reminder: A weekly reflection from the Quaker Leadership Center
by Andy Stanton-Henry
DECISION IS ACTION
As Quakers, we pride ourselves on our decision-making process. Indeed, rightly understood and undertaken, “Quaker process” is a beautiful testimony. In a culture of coercion where democracy seems to be under attack, a collaborative, Spirit-led process for making decisions may be one of our greatest gifts to the world.
Sadly, however, the gap is wide between the “ideal” and the “real” of Quaker process. This model of “Gospel Order” requires, as Sandra Cronk put it, a “life lived in God’s transforming, guiding, and sustaining power.” To work well, our decision-making processes require a level of maturity and capacity that we often don’t possess.
As a result, we struggle to do decisions well. Sometimes we are too quick in our decisions; we don’t give matters time to settle or season. We don’t allow the time required for Divine Wisdom and Way Forward to emerge from the group.
But more often, we are too slow. Our discernment becomes dithering. We quibble over details and word-smith. We fear offending anyone in our meeting. We put off crucial conversations or necessary confrontations.
“Dithering” may seem benign but it has real consequences. Our impact is weakened and our mission is undermined. Vulnerable people risk continued harm. Energy is drained from our faith community.
Confession: I’m not great at decisions. Sometimes I dither in my personal life. I’m not naturally a decisive person. There’s always more information to gather, outcomes to predict, and people to please.
So I have to remind myself that inaction is action. And sometimes, making a decision is taking an action.
Howard Thurman described the inner dynamics that happen when we finally make a decision: “In the wake of the decision, yes, even as a part of the decision itself, energy is released. The act of decision sweeps all before it, and the life of the individual may be changed forever.”
Writing of his climbing expedition in the Himalayas, William Hutchinson Murray writes about the synchronicities that are unleashed when we make a decision:
“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no [one] could have dreamed would have come [their] way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
Making a decision isn’t a prelude to taking an action. It is the first action that sets off a series of chain re-actions. It releases energy and moves Providence.
One of the challenges for Quaker decision-makers is our emphasis on reaching clearness. Sometimes we confuse clearness with certainty. It’s quite possible to reach clearness about a decision without having certainty.
There’s a story about a visit between the ethicist John Kavanaugh and Mother Teresa. Kavanaugh asked her to pray that he would find clarity about a decision he was trying to make. Much to his surprise, Mother Teresa refused. She replied: “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
Sometimes Friends cling to “clarity” or certainty when what we need is to trust God, to live in the Light we have been given, to make a decision and move forward in faith.
Pastor Andy Stanley talks about a choosing a “certainty quotient.” Like Mother Teresa, he rarely, if ever, has 100% certainty about his decisions. So, he advises, we need to determine the percentage of certainty we feel about a decision before we move forward. Do we need to feel 90% sure? 75%? 51%?
While we don’t often talk percentages in our discernment processes, it might be a tool to consider as we navigate the mix of “standing aside,” “seasoning,” and finding “Way Forward.” Or, as we seek more decisiveness in our personal and family decision-making. When will we say enough to our fact-finding, doomscrolling, and risk-managing, and make decision?
-Nothing can separate us from the love of God
-Even if it’s the “wrong” decision, deciding unleashes energy and opportunity
-God is creative and resourceful, and works with our mistakes
-The only thing we can do is live according to the Light we’ve been given, trusting that more will come as we keep deciding and acting.
What is your certainty quotient?
What decision are you or your community putting off?
How might a decision unleash energy and opportunity in your life & leadership?