February 22, 2015

False Choices

Gary Thomas — 

False Choices Final

So, I ran the Houston marathon a couple weeks ago, rather unexpectedly. I had signed up for it much earlier in the year but was nowhere near trained for it. My longest training run was 12 miles—in November. I took off three entire weeks a month before the marathon when Lisa and I were in Europe. Since I had already forked out $135, I planned to run the half without crossing the finish line for a DNF (did not finish). (Since I was registered for the marathon, crossing the finish line early could be seen as cheating.)

All these plans collapsed the day before the marathon when one of my most and least favorite pastor friends shamed me.

He texted me the day before the race: “You running?”

I wrote back, “Not the full; I think I’m just going to do the half course and not cross the finish line. It’s a tough choice: my first ever DNF or running a time slower than Oprah Winfrey.”

“What’s so tough about that?” he asked. “Perseverance, or quitting? Humility, or pride?”

Game on.

Miles 1-23, I was thinking, “Bob is such an inspiration. I’m glad God has given him a large church with which to share his wisdom.”

Miles 23-26 I started thinking, “Bob is a very evil man. Why does God allow him to have such a big platform?”

Here’s the thing: I didn’t get a DNF and I didn’t run slower than Oprah (though it was my slowest marathon ever, by far). I’m not saying I should have run it. My wife, who knew how low my mileage has been, said, “To be honest Gary, I’m kind of impressed and kind of appalled.”

The moral of all this is that I had been imprisoned in a false choice: get a DNF or be embarrassed by Oprah. As I found out, there was actually a third choice: finish the race and run faster than Oprah (and then limp for a week).

Gary's Finisher Medal Final

So often I hear people say, “What am I supposed to do? Be miserable for the rest of my life or get a divorce?” “Am I supposed to risk never having my child speak to me again or let him do whatever he wants?” “I can either marry this person who isn’t a good fit or be lonely for the rest of my life.”

False dichotomies are simply a convenient psychological trick to justify a lesser choice. They’re based on a lack of creativity, often surrendering when we should be rising to the challenge.

Most of us have some kind of false dichotomies going on in our heads right now. What’s yours?

“Keep working 80 hour weeks and miss my kids’ childhood, or let our house be foreclosed on?”

“Go into debt or tithe?”

“Move in together before the wedding, or wait and save up financially for another three years to pay for a proper wedding?”

“Be hungry all the time or gain 50 pounds?”

What is usually happening here is that we’re trying to convince ourselves that something we know isn’t wise is at least better than something even worse. It’s the old trick husbands play on their wives when choosing a movie: offer two terrible suggestions you know your wife will hate so that when you offer a third choice (the movie you really want to see), she’s relieved it’s not as bad as the first two.

Take a few moments and figure out what false dichotomies are running in your mind right now. Force yourself to prayerfully seek a superior third choice. God is a creative God. We don’t have to face any problems or decisions without Him.


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5 responses to False Choices

  1. So I guess just because your “most and least favorite pastor friend” Bob ended up shaming you, you felt you needed to do the same to me?
    I guess that makes you my one of my “most and least favorite pastor friends” as well!

    Thanks once again for not just leaving the dagger stuck in me…the extra 1 or 2 twists you give it seem to be what God needs to open my eyes….and heart.

  2. In short what you do to others is a reflection what you do to yourself, it is as simple as that. Marriage isn’t easy these days bc the environment around us is becoming more violent and most take bad energy as is and infect to ourselves, to family. Only a fool marries a person you don’t see a piece of integrity and resilience and a lot of proofs of positive self soothing.

  3. Gary, I think this is a theme that needs to be developed further. It reminds me of going to seminars where the speaker presents one or two false choices so that the one he/she wants me to choose is obvious. However, I have found in my life the answer usually isn’t even the third choice offered me. It may be the fourth or fifth (or sixth, etc.) option that isn’t even offered. I think our job as followers of Christ is to ask the Holy Spirit to help us find the godly option that will be life-giving, not just the best of all the poor choices we have been presented.

    Thanks for sharing this extremely important concept!


    • I agree J.D. That’s the limitation of a blog post, though. I’m currently reading an intriguing book by Bruce Waltke warning that the way we think of “discovering” the will of God is actually a “pagan” notion. It’s challenging me.