It’s hard to commit. It just is. Okay, maybe not for every single one of us – some people just happen to be particularly decisive. For the majority of our generation in this nation, however, I’m pretty sure the label of ‘eternal fence-sitter’ is something with which a lot of us could identify.
We’re part of a generation that has grown up with unparalleled levels of choice. Never and nowhere until recent decades in the western world has any group of people passed from childhood to adulthood with quite so many options. On every level. Ours is the generation that grew up being told in school: “You can be anything you want to be; go anywhere you want to go; do anything you want to do.” Only trouble is, if you spend your whole life being told “you can do anything”, you almost inevitably wind up wondering: “Well, what, out of an endless array of options, do I actually want to do?”
Feel free to disagree, but my observation is that the world around us attempts to celebrate this paralysing plethora of choices. In fact, the myth our culture seems to sell us is that choice automatically equates to freedom. Isn’t it great that we have so many choices? That means we must have real freedom, because we are free to choose between so many different things in every single sphere.
I’m not so sure it is. See, the thing about having so much choice is that it makes choosing more complicated. It creates delay in decision-making. This ‘freedom’ actually makes many things much harder. Do you know people who are so paralysed by this smorgasbord of choices, and so anxious to keep hold of the ‘freedom’ it apparently equals, that they are unable to commit to pretty much anything? Worse still, they are unable to rule options out and so, they can’t say no to an invite either. Don’t hear me wrong. I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone. The way I came to know about this problem is by being a chief proponent of it. I still struggle with some big choices and, more often, little ones.
Look a little wider, and it turns out this inability to commit is so commonplace that there’s a worldwide epidemic of what’s called ‘extended adolescence’. Interestingly enough, the very word ‘adolescent’ was only created a few decades ago. It used to be that a man like me had two life-stages – boyhood, and then manhood. The ladies had a pretty similar arrangement. Now the cultural forces at work around us have yielded an ever-expanding in-between phase, and it results in a widespread problem of ‘Peter Pan syndrome’. And they’re looking at us. It may not be our fault, but it is ours to do something about.
Love him or loathe him, firebrand pastor Mark Driscoll is onto something when he says the measure of a man is not a matter of being macho, but ‘the taking of responsibility’. But why stop at men? Taking responsibility is part of adulthood for both sexes, and adults are what we actually are, and adulthood is where we’re actually meant to be by now and that inevitably means actually making some choices.
In the last few years, by God’s grace, I’ve come on leaps and bounds in my own ability to commit to things. Each time I do, it’s difficult, because the door swings shut on so many other options and possibilities. But what I’m finding, time and again, is that this cutting out of alternatives is actually immensely liberating. I got off the fence and into a relationship, and then committed my life to one women in marriage. That eliminates literally every other potential partner from now until death, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because marriage is amazing, and I am free from the shackles of endlessly chasing, waiting and wondering, to just focus on loving that one person with all I’ve got. I committed to a calling and ‘career’ of ordination in the Church of England. That’s a big responsibility, but it’s actually so freeing to know that this is what I’m doing and where I’m heading, because I don’t have to worry about all the other options anymore. Instead I’m focused on what I’ve committed to. Around Christmas my wife will birth a baby boy – our first child. That’s a massive commitment, and it will be far from easy, but by ruling out a whole host of things we are freed to focus on this little life for which we’re responsible, enjoying all the blessings and learning all the lessons that come with that life-stage.
I’m not suggesting everyone should start a family swiftly, or criticising those who happen to be single. All I’m saying is that the notion that more choice equals more freedom has turned out to be a lie, and we can’t afford to be held captive by it.
(Image via Creation Swap)