The idea of making life decisions in arenas where we lack experience should put a little fear in all our hearts. But I don't run into too many people paralyzed by indecision. Instead of carefully analyzing the destinations associated with the various path options offered, our tendency is to charge down the path of least resistance, oblivious to the obvious.
I have talked to too many people who are trying desperately to backtrack down paths they wish they had never taken, usually in the financial or relational arenas. Some have acquired too much debt or in bad marriages. Others are entangled in business with people they wish they had never met.
I imagine you have had few of those conversations yourself. When someone share stories like above, one is tempted to ask, " Didn't you see this coming? Wasn't there anything along the way that gave you a heads-up as to where this was going to take you? Weren't you even suspicious? Surely there were some warning signs. Something". Most of them pretended that everything somehow works out. Every decision has an outcome, and every path has a destination. and so they are, exactly where they don't want to be- but exactly where their paths led them. And now life is complicated. Unnecessarily complicated. Unnecessarily, because warning signs were all in place. Again they were oblivious to the obvious. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Few years back, I listened to an entrepreneur named Bill Britt. He once quoted a verse from Book of Proverbs which I didn't pay attention until few months back. This has empowered me and my family to avoid countless complications. The unnecessary kind. Let me quote what he said.
"The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it." (Proverbs 27:12)
I remember what Bill mentioned that day where he said the verse introduces us to two kinds of people. The prudent and simple. He meant they are wise and naive. Both are headed down the same path. Both "see danger" but they react differently. And consequently, they experience two very different outcomes.
I understood it just few months back and when I paused and read my notes again. Follow me for a moment as we take a deeper look. Let's start with the first half:
"The prudent see danger and take refuge..."
Term prudent is used interchangeably with wise. So a prudent person is a wise person. The implication here is that a prudent man or woman understands that all of life is connected. He is aware of the cause-and-effect relationship between what he chooses today and what he experiences tomorrow, what he chooses during one season of life and his experience in a future season-for better or worse. Consequently, prudent people look as far down the road as possible when making decisions. Every decision. After all, they understand that today and tomorrow are connected. They stay on the lookout for signs of trouble up ahead. Today's decisions are informed and influenced by their impact on tomorrow. Drawing on their own experience or the experience of others, they anticipate the future and choose accordingly. They ask what I often refer to as the best question ever: "In light of my past experience, and my future hopes and dreams, what's the best thing to do?" The prudent draw upon the wealth of data that life has already provided them and then take appropriate action when they see danger ahead.
The second half of the verse, we were introduced to a second category of folks: the simple.
"..but the simple keep going and suffer for it."
Simple is used interchangeably with the term naive. In contrast to the prudent, the simple or naive person lives as though life is disconnected; as if there is no connection between today's choices and tomorrow's experiences. When the simple"see danger", they don't take evasive action. They keep going.
Notice, I said they live as if life is disconnected. They don't necessarily believe to be the case. If you were to ask them, "Do you think there is connection between the choices you make today and what you will experience in the future?" they would in all likelihood answer yes. Again, it is not that they don't believe life is connected. The point is they don't live as if it is.
"Who would be so..naive?" you ask. Pretty much everybody at some point. Everytime you eat something you know you will regret, you fall into this category. Everytime you talk yourself out of exercising, you talk yourself out of preferred future. Every time you light up a cigarette, lie to your spouse,or spend money you don't have, you act as if today is in now connected to tomorrow. You "see danger". Yet instead of "taking refuge", you "keep going". You know life is connected. You just live as if it is. You make decisions today as if today is isolated from tomorrow.
The primary difference between the prudent and the simple is not what they see but how they respond to what they see. The prudent see danger and take refuge. The simple see danger and keep going. The prudent see danger and change their course. They act on what they see. The simple simply do not.The prudent act as if then is now; as if the future is the present. The simple respond as though tomorrow will always be tomorrow. The prudent respond now.
When the prudent identify behaviors turning into habits, they do something while they can. The simple keep going. When the prudent sense a relationship moving in an unhealthy direction, they do something. The simple keep going. When the prudent see trouble on their financial horizon, they do something. The simple keep spending.
The proverb closes with a very specific prediction. "..the simple keep going and suffer for it."
Suffer "for" what? For being oblivious to the obvious. The simple suffer for refusing to act on what they see. They suffer because they live as if there is no connection between the choices of today and the experiences of tomorrow. They overlook the fact that every path has a destination.
This is a truth many people have difficult time accepting -for themselves, anyway. But like it or not, decision have consequences.For some behaviours, there is point of no return. There is point at which it becomes impossible to sidestep consequences.
Few people use this opportunity to remind the world that nobody is perfect. And if all else fails, we play the fairness card: it's not fair that is happening to me!
When we are the ones facing the inevitable consequences of our decisions, it really doesn't seem fair."How could God let this happen to me?" Some people ask for forgiveness to God.
You warn people you love. The proverbs was a warning. And experiencing the outcome of your decisions has nothing to do with forgiveness. If you don't believe me, think about how your Math teacher would have responded if you had dropped on your knees at his/her desk and begged for forgiveness after flunking an exam you didn't study for. To avoid an awkward moment, he/she may have extended their hand and pronounced it is alright. But that wouldn't change your grade. It may help your relationship, but not your GPA. Forgiveness and consequences are two different things. One does not override the other.
God often works through principles. Principles make life somewhat predictable. The cause- and effect nature of principles creates the potential for predictable outcomes. Without principles, life would be completely random. Principles are what enables us to plan with some element of confidence. Just as you dare not ignore the principle of gravity, you would be wise not to ignore the principle of cause and effect. At the end of the day, direction, not intention, determines destination. You can't pray your way out of that. You can't talk your way out of that. And you can't repent your way out of that. It is the way God designed the world to work. You can pick any religion and they all say the same thing .
Here's another prayer Bill mentioned that I practice it on a day-to-day basis.
"Lord, help us to see trouble coming along before it gets here. And give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it."
Praying this everyday would really help in identifying possible risks and make strategies to mitigate them. Life is short. The seasons of life pass quickly. And each season is connected to the one that follows. Today's decision create tomorrow's experiences.
My hope is that as you transition from season to season, you will do with a sigh of relief rather than the pain of regret. For that to be, you must pay attention to what's out ahead of you. When you see trouble coming, take refuge. Change direction. Because it is the direction of your life what will determine your destination.