Why Considering Your State Is Essential To Good Decision-Making
April 4, 2022
We’ve been doing a lot of workshops in our Metanoia Catholic Academy recently to help people discern God’s voice, God’s will, and the desires of their own hearts. These are all skills that are important to master as a Christian if we want to live a life that is purpose-filled, excellent, and sanctifying.
But often, we see clients feeling stressed and overwhelmed when they fail to bring in the reality of their current circumstances when making a decision.
Desire is important, but Vocation, obligations, and seasons of life are also important to consider when you find yourself at a decision point in life. When we do, certain options are often quickly dismissed and the clear way forward jumps right off the page.
How does Vocation factor into decision-making?
Here, we’re considering the primary Christian Vocations of marriage, priesthood and religious life, or consecrated singles (of note single and discerning your Vocation is not a Vocation, but more a season of life).
What are the terms of your Vocational vows? Each Christian Vocation has vows that define the terms of the vocation. These are objective terms that guide us to live our Vocations faithfully and excellently. When we live by the vows of our Vocation, they are able to have their sanctifying effect on us. (This is where creating your own wedding vows can really be a disservice to a couple, as it redefines the terms of their marriage based on their own perception of excellence, rather than God’s.)
Do you have a decision that is pulling you away from the vows of your Vocation? For a married couple, this could be a job opportunity that is going to demand excessive time away from home as a wife or husband – or a pursuit that is going to cause you to compromise the formation of your children in the Faith. Arguably, such options would not be in keeping with your vows and should probably be removed from the list of considerable possibilities.
As a parish priest, you might have a special charism for speaking and teaching which results in a growing invitation list to speak across the country. But would this compromise your fidelity to your primary flock? I know priests like this who refuse speaking gigs that will prevent them from celebrating Sunday mass with their parish. They won’t compromise their vow to their flock, even though one could argue that they could impact more lives by “going on tour.”
Write out the vows of your Vocation, and if you have a decision before you, consider how your options will allow you to best remain faithful to your vows. This may entail growing in understanding of your vows and what they mean. This is where trusted, good counsel is very helpful.
To go against your vows would only cause harm to you, your loved ones, and your eternal soul.
How do I factor the current obligations of my present state in life when making a decision?
When we consider our present (keyword present) state in life and its obligations, we can begin considering how our decisions will help us live more, or less, excellently in our current state.
Consider a decision on how we consume media.
We live in a world with a 24-hour news cycle. Some of us, based on our state in life, (for example, public servants and elected officials) have a greater need to be apprised of what’s going on in the world or local politics. Given their state, they have a responsibility to know these things. It makes them more excellent at their role in creating excellent public policy.
But for the average citizen who, beyond voting and writing their congressman, does not have this direct responsibility to create public policy, they have a decreased need to be astute to the happenings of international or local politics. Yet how often do we choose to spend ourselves consuming political podcasts, books, and the 24-hour news cycle to a point of gluttony.
The same consideration could be applied for how big our paycheck needs to be. Arguably, a father providing for a family of eight will need more financial resources than that of a single man. That father of eight, may also value a stable and lower base salary than a fluctuating variable compensation with a higher earning potential. (Mind you, I am offering these examples not as universal principles for all married men with families of eight. The nuances of each situation must always be considered. There are certainly moms and dads who are providing well and stably on a variable compensation plan.) For example, I know my wife and I were willing to take more financial risks early in our marriage than we are now that we have a daughter preparing to go to school.
We want our decisions to be virtuous, meaning that they are inclining us toward living excellently. Living excellently as a single woman with no children looks differently than that of a homeschooling mom with seven kids.
If we think the obligations of our state in life are restricting, in some ways, you are correct. We may not like our boss, but if we want to be excellent in our job, we will want to consider how to be obedient to his or her requests. Of course, you are free to disobey your boss (objectively contrary to being obedient to your state in life, assuming it is a moral request from your boss), but this will not, and can not, lead to excellence in your job – nor excellence in your life.
Consider the present obligations of your current state in life. Write them down, and choose to recommit to them.
How do I factor the season of my life when making decisions?
There are different seasons of life. By definition, these have a starting and ending point.
We all enter a season of Vocational discernment at some point in life, typically in our twenties and early thirties.
If married, we typically have a season (minimally 9-months) when we are alone in our home, followed bya season of little kids, teenagers, and eventually, a season as empty-nesters.
If we take a new role, there is a season of learning the new role followed by a season of growing more excellent in that role.
For each of these seasons of life there are ways of living more excellently based on the purpose of that season. When we resist the nature of these seasons of life, we often cause ourselves unnecessary pain.
I once had a client who got a promotion. He was entering a season of discovering what it meant to be excellent in his new role. But, he had an unfair demand on himself to immediately be perfect in this new role. It led to him avoiding asking questions and doing the things to grow in knowledge of his new responsibilities. By resisting this season of learning, he was denying its ability to prepare him for the following season of being excellent in his new role.
I’ve also coached moms with little children who have desires to launch new businesses. But consider the demands of this season of life. Little children are not able to make their own meals, put on their own clothes, change their diapers, or wipe their own butts! There are obligations specific to this season of life that, if we are going to endure it with excellence, will demand a mom’s focus away from her business aspirations. This does not mean that she cannot pursue this desire, but it may mean that it will take longer with work being confined to nap time.
And consider this, too. These seasons of our life have a way of perfecting us.
Consider this season of having small children in the home. Marie Montessori, founder of the Montessori education paradigm, shared that we need to submit to the apostolate of the child. This means that these little ones are having just as much a formative effect on us as we are on them. It’d be a shame to wish this formative experience away or farm it out excessively to childcare or nannies (key word – excessively – PARENTS NEED BABYSITTERS!) to pursue a goal that is withdrawing us from the perfective power of our present season in life.
We desire to live excellently and freely, and can often think that our Vocation, present state in life, or present season of life are restrictions working against us. But this is not a Christian perspective. In fact, bondage vice, and addiction happens when we choose to be obedient only to our passions. By growing in understanding of what it means to live our Vocations, state in life, and season of life excellently, we can experience their purifying effects that increase virtue in us—the fruits of which, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are the very freedom we seek.