As I get older, decisions in life don’t seem to get smaller and easier, but bigger, harder, and more frequent.
In the moment, we often think the hardest decision we’ll ever face is whichever one we have to make right now. If we look back in ten years, though, this whale of a decision may begin to look a little more like a dolphin or a penguin.
When I was in my early twenties, the most difficult decision I had made was whether to stay near home for college (with my friends) or wander outside the safety of southern Ohio. Tears were shed. By my mid-thirties, however, I had made a dozen decisions bigger than that one. Where will I live? Where will I go to church? What will I do for a living, and who will pay me to do that? Whom will I marry? When will we try to have kids? Will I stay in this job? What school will we send our kids to? How will we pay for that? And those are just the big decisions most people have to make at some point. You have question marks of your own.
This year brought some new whales into our family’s harbor, and so we’ve been in need of fresh wisdom and clarity. As we wrestled through these weighty decisions, I was reading The Chronicles of Narnia with my six-year-old. On one of our hikes through its forests, my son and I came to a crossroads (as one often does in Narnia). And it was one of those crossroads that unveils the magic of Lewis’s world.
While standing there beside a dwarf (Trumpkin) and looking out over a gorge separating the four Pevensie children from Prince Caspian’s army, I suddenly wasn’t looking at a dwarf anymore, or a gorge, or even a book. I was looking at my life, at the hard decisions I needed to make. I was looking at myself. It was as if Lewis himself had decided to stop over from mid-twentieth-century Oxford to help me choose between the paths before me.
A Godless Calculus
Where we were reading, King Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are hiking with Trumpkin, trying to find the Great River. After arduous days, they’re questioning whether they’ve gone the wrong way when they suddenly come to a gorge. The chasm is too wide to cross, so they must either follow the gorge downstream, hoping it meets the river, or climb upstream, looking for a place to cross. Trumpkin’s convinced that the gorge must fall into the river somewhere below, and Peter quickly approves. “Come on, then. Down this side of the gorge” (Prince Caspian, 131). At that moment, though, young Lucy sees an old, majestic friend.
“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.
“Where? What?” asked everyone.
“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.
The other children, not able to see Aslan themselves, immediately suspect she’s seeing things. Lucy won’t back down, though. As they search and search and see nothing, they ask where exactly she saw the lion.
Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was — up there. (132)
“Anyone who regularly reads the Bible, by the Spirit, sees the lion every day.”
As Lucy insists, the dwarf resists. “I know nothing about Aslan. But I do know that if we turn left and follow the gorge up, it might lead us all day before we found a place where we could cross it. Whereas if we turn right and go down, we’re bound to reach the Great River in about a couple of hours. And if there are any real lions about, we want to go away from them, not towards them” (133). He’s the voice of conventional wisdom. He can calculate only what he can see.
In this case, his small, narrow eyes win the day, so the company turns right and goes down.
First, the way turns out to be not as “conventional” as it had seemed: “To keep along the edge of the gorge was not so easy as it had looked” (135). They fight through dense woods until they can’t anymore and have to back out and go around the trees. When they find the gorge again, the hike down is slower and more treacherous than they expected.
As they finally near the bottom, they take another turn like so many before, and suddenly the Great River stretches out before them. Their spirits surge, lifting their sore feet and tired legs. The children are busy talking again — and then the arrows come. The evil King Miraz had posted soldiers near the river, who chase the children, sending them back to where they started.
“I suppose we’ll have to go right up the gorge again now,” says Lucy (142).
When they get all the way back to the top, they stop and make camp for the night. The dwarf prepares a great meal for the crew, and they all fall into a deep sleep. In the middle of the night, Aslan wakes Lucy and tells her to wake the others. The older kids still don’t believe her, but with the hissing sound of arrows still ringing in their ears, they decide to follow anyway. As they walk together through the dark, the lion shows them a path down into the gorge they never would have noticed. And before morning comes, they have found King Caspian and the others.
Meeting God in the Forest
Now, what might Lucy’s childlike wisdom mean for our crossroads? When it comes to complicated and heavy decisions, do we just follow whatever inner impulse we have? No, that’s not how God — or Aslan — leads. Lucy wasn’t following some inner impulse. She really saw a lion, with fur and paws and teeth. She wasn’t following a hunch or intuition; this was reverence and obedience. He showed her the way to go, and expected her to go, even if the others couldn’t see what she saw yet.
What do we do, though, when we wrestle and pray and labor over a decision, and a lion hasn’t come yet? How might God come and stand on a path for us?
The most important thing to say is that anyone who regularly reads the Bible, by the Spirit, sees the lion every day. The word of God is the one inspired, infallible path he has given us for life. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:3–4). Google can’t provide answers like these. Artificial intelligence is a shadow of such wisdom. A hundred PhDs would only scratch the surface. We have no idea what we hold in the pages of this Book.
The Bible is not peripheral to your marriage and family decisions, your work decisions, your schedule decisions, your church and ministry decisions, your giving and saving decisions, your medical decisions. In his word, his Spirit, and his church, God really has given you everything you could conceivably need to make the daunting decision standing before you.
The Lion in Their Eyes
When it comes to your crossroads, don’t forget the church. Along with the word and his Spirit, God gives us other word-saturated, Spirit-filled, flesh-and-blood fountains of wisdom.
Lucy found the right path by listening to Aslan. Peter, Susan, and Edmund found the right path by listening to Lucy. She saw what they could not see yet, because Aslan had decided to reveal it to her first. How often does this happen with us? Our perspective and judgment are clouded by the weight of a decision, until the right friend comes. They’re not blinded by our fog, and so they’re able to see through it and guide us out. “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).
“God really has given you everything you could conceivably need to make the daunting decision standing before you.”
When we join a local church, as ordinary or simple as it may seem on the surface, we are being surgically woven into a whole new nervous system of wisdom. God has specifically gifted the people in our church — through his word, through their resources and experiences, through gifts of his Spirit — to meet real needs in our lives, including helping us make wise plans and life decisions. If you’re wrestling between two paths right now, who in your church might already know something about those paths? What might God show them to help guide you?
And what might he show you to help guide someone else? At times, you’ll need a Lucy. At other times, you’ll be a Lucy. God will give you unique, supernatural perspectives on decisions that your friends and family won’t be able to see at first. They’ll need the lion in your eyes.
Following After Trees
Lucy has one more lesson for us. When Aslan appears to her that second time (while the others are still sleeping), he leads her on a walk through the forest glade. As she follows the voice of the lion, she sees something unsettling among the trees. The trees themselves — those dark, towering, leafy pillars — seem to be moving. And not just moving, but dancing.
Why were they dancing, and why now? Not because Lucy and the others had finally chosen the right path, but because of the one roaming that path.
She went fearlessly in among the trees, dancing herself as she leaped this way and that to avoid being run into by these huge partners. But she was only half-interested in them. She wanted to get beyond them to something else; it was from beyond them that the dear voice had called. (146)
Moments later, she is face-to-face with him again. “Lucy rushed to him. She felt her heart would burst if she lost a moment. And the next thing she knew was that she was kissing him and putting her arms as far round his neck as she could and burying her face in the beautiful rich silkiness of his mane” (148).
I found this scene — a frail girl’s heart wrapped tight around the ferocious lion — to be as illuminating and stirring as any. Yes, the lion knew which way to go, but the trees say much more than that. He didn’t just know the way; he was the way. And he was the destination. The wise path, whether up the gorge, down the gorge, around the gorge, or over the gorge, was always going to be wherever his big paws were.
And so, perhaps the best question to ask when faced with another big life decision would be this: Where’s the lion now? He could show up on any number of paths, and it won’t always be easy to see him (and you might not be the first to see him). But in any given decision, we want to be able to wrap our arms around his neck and bury our faces in his fur.
At any given crossroads, we want the path with more of him.