The other day I sat down on the subway, headed for home. I was tired and achy and a little bit sick, ready to sit down on the couch and rest. As the subway started moving I remembered that there was a holy hour soon at one of my favorite churches in the city. I’d planned on going but had forgotten about it through the course of the afternoon. Well, here I was on the train, and I could easily head uptown if I transferred at Times Square—I’d make it there a few minutes early. But I was pretty tired and wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. I had a few stops before I had to make a decision. I figured, eh, I’ll decide when the moment comes. But then the moment came, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to do both things—I didn’t want to miss the holy hour and knew it would be good for me to go, but I also needed to rest. When the doors opened at Times Square, I stepped off the train. But then immediately I regretted my decision; walking a little unsteadily in my overtired state, I ended up heading back into another train car before the doors closed again. But then I sat on the train, unsure if this was really what I wanted. I went two more stops and then walked out onto the platform, deciding to postpone the decision and wait for another train.
I stood on that platform for a long time. For a while, no trains were coming at all. Then I decided I would take a train going back to Times Square, transfer uptown, and go to the holy hour. I sat down on a stalled train that would eventually be going in that direction. While I waited, two trains went by in the other direction toward my apartment. I felt a twinge of regret that I didn’t take them. Then I got a phone call from a friend, and I suddenly decided that I would go home so that I could call her back and catch up. I walked back out onto the platform. At this point, anyone who had watched my movements would probably assume I was crazy, wandering in and out of trains, standing on the platform watching some trains go by without boarding them. And I realized that I was a little crazy. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I make a simple decision? In theory, these were two good options—rest and prayer—but which was the better one? Which did I need more right now? Why was I wasting time deciding? I wasn’t sure.
A train came by and I got on. It took me homeward to Queens. When I arrived I still debated taking a bus over to the church, but then I realized that some time had passed and it wouldn’t be worth the trip at this point. So I walked home, I called my friend back, and I rested on the couch. I ended up coming down with a cold afterward, and I’m sure I would have been sicker if I had stayed out that night. I think I made the right decision. But the whole incident made me wonder about myself, about my bewilderment when it comes to making decisions large and small.
I think sometimes I have trouble listening to what I actually need to be doing in the moment because I am distracted by what I “should” be doing, or what I’d planned to be doing, or even what I want to be doing. I wanted to be at church, it would have been spiritually good for me to be there, and it was part of my original plans. But when the time came, that wasn’t where I really needed to be, and I had trouble accepting that. It’s true that it would have been spiritually beneficial for me to attend, but much of the spiritual benefit would have been lost on me if I were exhausted and sick. I knew that in my gut, but I was constantly second-guessing myself. I was stuck on that train platform for the longest time, unsure of which train to board.
Discernment is not one-size-fits-all, although it would be easier to think of it that way. There are always different circumstances in each person’s particular case that you need to pay attention to in making any decision. I think I need to do a better job of listening to my own mind and heart and being flexible with my plans, adjusting as I go along. And I think I need to get better at making a decision without looking back. The choice might be a mistake, but the best way to grow is to just move forward with it once the decision is made. I’d be wasting my life if I spent all my time wringing my hands, wondering if I’ve done the best possible thing.
Living in New York City, I find that I am constantly overwhelmed by options. There is always something going on, something to do and somewhere else to be. To really focus on and commit to something means putting other things aside for the moment. And in this world of multitasking, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing many things halfheartedly instead of a few things wholeheartedly. Every yes requires a no—and that’s hard for someone who doesn’t like to say no. Or for someone who second-guesses each decision, both the yeses and the nos. Often I am paralyzed by choices yet to be made. But if anything, living in New York is testing me by fire to be more decisive. Life moves so fast here that I am forced to either reset my thinking in order to survive or otherwise get swept up in the maelstrom of an overly frenzied lifestyle, a life in which I never stop to breathe, one that goes by so quickly I don’t even notice what’s happening. I want to notice what’s happening in my own life. I want to be intentional, to live according to my own needs and values despite the current of my surroundings. I believe it is possible to live at a healthy pace within this crazy, frenetic city. I just haven’t quite accomplished it yet.
2 thoughts on “Indecision”
Erin, this is awesome! I particularly love the lines, “The choice might be a mistake, but the best way to grow is to just move forward with it once the decision is made. I’d be wasting my life if I spent all my time wringing my hands, wondering if I’ve done the best possible thing.” This is so Mother Angelica (have you read any of the books by her or about her? She’s always talking about living in the present moment, moving forward, and not getting caught up in the past)
I am a super indecisive person (in matters small and large), but slowly I’m trying to get better. When I was growing up, one of my mom’s favorite saying was, “The sign of a blessed life is choosing between good and good, instead of good and bad.” So, I keep trying. I try to deliberate about things appropriately, but not get caught up in going back-and-forth, so I can just make a decision. Sometimes, weird decisions that we make may even turn out for the best!
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Thanks AnneMarie – that’s great advice!