The Quagmire of Indecision

Recently I asked a room full of college-aged women how many of them would describe themselves as indecisive, and a good majority of them raised their hands. Whether it is choosing an item from a menu, picking what to wear, or choosing a film to watch, many women have trouble making a decision. And if a woman has trouble with the little questions, imagine the quagmire she can get into when it comes to big questions, like whether to move, which college to attend, which job to take, or whether to say yes to the nice young man who is interested in her.

Indecision is simply a manifestation of insecurity, and women like to feel secure. Women want approval and affirmation, and they worry that their decision may be wrong, like getting the incorrect answer on a test. Woman was created to be covered and protected, and when she is the all alone, bearing the responsibility of all her own decisions, she can feel very vulnerable and unsure of herself. This means faith is necessary, faith that God will guide, direct, protect, and oversee everything. That is one reason why good doctrine is a sweet comfort. 

Now some women handle this without difficulty. They may be the decisive types who don’t second-guess themselves because they were either born that way or trained by their parents to be confident and secure. Or they may have a strong father and mother who will help guide and direct them, giving wise counsel and continuing to take responsibility, even if they are living apart. But even with great parents, a girl has to learn to make many decisions by herself, even at a very young age. Being indecisive can be a set up to be led astray (by following someone who is decisive); it can be a hindrance to growth and maturity (by refusing to take responsibility);  and it can be a nuisance to others (Why can’t you make up your mind?).

(And as an aside here, parents need to teach their children to be able to make decisions. If your daughter at age six cannot choose between the pink backpack or the orange one, it may be a wake-up call that it is time to start training her in this area. The goal is to equip our daughters to make wise decisions and not fret over them once they are made.)

At the bottom of indecision is worry: What if I choose the wrong thing? So dealing with worry may be the best place to start.  “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5). So pray about a decision first. Are there any biblical principles involved? If so, what are they? Consider your opportunities and your desires. Get more details if necessary. Don’t give way to pressure to make a hasty decision (“We are leaving in five minutes to go to the North Pole. Do you want to come?”) When in doubt, throw it out. But after you have made a decision prayerfully, then trust the Lord, be quiet and let your heart rest. Don’t fuss and fret over whether it was the right decision or not. An indecisive person can do that no matter which way they take: Maybe I should’ve…. maybe I shouldn’t have…..

Identify your own temptations. If you are indecisive, begin to look for opportunities to make a decision wisely and promptly. Pray before you go to the restaurant or before you go shopping (your friends will be grateful). Then make a decision. If you don’t like the fish and chips, then next time you can order the fajita. It’s not earth shattering. If you buy the purple luggage and later regret it, then take heart that it will eventually wear out. Take responsibility for your decisions and learn to stop worrying over them. Wrap up each decision with gratitude and press on.

These little insecurities hold us back and keep us from becoming the women God has designed us to be. So let go of these troubling thoughts about decision making and step out in faith. God will bless you in it.

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28 thoughts on “The Quagmire of Indecision

  1. Very well said. I am not great at making decisions and this was very encouraging and challenging. Especially the part about moving on once you have made a decision instead of rethinking it all a thousand times. Thanks!

  2. Very well said, indeed! Wish I had read this 3 years ago when my husband proposed… that decision was sooo hard. Especially since my first marriage ended in divorce after my husband left for someone else. However, my faith was strengthened and my decision (made by faith, and through loads of prayer and godly counsel) was far from a bad worng, I am happy to say. Indecision causes nothing but heartache, for all involved.

  3. This reminded me of a Steve Wilkins sermon from a few years ago. I don’t recall specifically how he got to the funny part, but none-the-less it has stood out in my memory as the time it was hardest not to laugh too much at church (he’d obviously hit the nail on the head for me!) . . . His point culminated in, “don’t ask, ‘Lord, if I’m supposed to make that choice, then please let that waitress come over to our table and ask if I want the spicy mustard'”

    Great post!

  4. I’ve noticed that those women who seem like the decisive type often are that way to cover up their insecurities.

  5. Wow! I’ve been really working on this for about six months now… after realizing that I was soo indecisive about so many little silly things, like what kind of juice I was going to drink in the morning. Thanks for the encouragement to keep working on it!

  6. And there are those of us who don’t appear to have trouble making decisions, because our solution to the problem is to take the path of least resistance, rather than facing and working through decisions. That’s just plain laziness, that is!

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you Nancy. I have always struggled with this. A huge moment for me was when I was about 10 and my grandma, who I only saw once a year, gave me a decision-maker keychain (with a spinner that pointed to yes, no, definitely, no way, etc.) for Christmas. I was so surprised that everyone in my family knew this about me and thought it was cute, or funny or something. But, I felt like the decisions I DID make were always questioned or over-ruled, in other words, the wrong decisions. Thus, perpetuated my fear of making wrong decisions.
    Sorry about the parent-blaming there. . .
    I have battled this head-on for a few years. And wisdom about Christian liberty, and freedom in Christ has helped. Also, learning from my sage-of-a-husband that holding strong principles should guide our decisions.
    Anyways, thank you so much. I am printing this one.

  8. Franci- I have seen that also. And, I think that I have tried to emulate that in the past too. Which is not really dealing with the insecurity issues directly.

  9. When I was in the “College and Beyond” group at the church I grew up in, I would panic every time we went out to eat. What if I ordered the wrong thing??? Horrors!!! So I used to wait ’til others had ordered, and then choose the same thing that someone else had picked. I’ve come a long way, baby — can generally handle a menu without having a panic attack — but I still sometimes have to give myself mental pep talks along the lines of “If you don’t like the fish and chips, then next time you can order the fajita. It’s not earth shattering.” (We won’t mention big ticket items, which are a whole ‘nother story….)

    Incidentally, this problem is a very good argument in favor of Calvinism. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’d never have been able to make such a huge decision as choosing Christ if He hadn’t barged in and helped Himself to my heart!

  10. Just curious if you have any tips or pointers on teaching indecisive daughters? I realize my daughter is only 5, but having to choose between a purple or pink backpack can lead to major tears and stress here at our house. She sometimes refuses altogether to make a choice unless Mommy, Daddy, or even little brother makes one for her.

  11. Dolly,
    I would suggest that you reinforce her in other areas, building her confidence in her taste, praising her for the good decisions that she does make. At the bottom of the indecision is fear of failure or disapproval. So that’s what I would go after.

  12. Decisions are always hard, no matter who you are–whether you are 5, 15, 25 or 105. Your post is mainly about making those smaller choices and sticking to them, as a precursor to learning how to make bigger decisions. Your insight about insecurity and faith is a good one.

    I work at a place where I deal with indecisive customers all the time. A line is growing behind them a mile long while they sort out the merits of a cappuccino versus a mocha. I usually tell them that it’s all good. What are they in a mood for today? Usually in a matter of seconds, we work out what drink suits them. What do they like? Only they know, but I can help them with options. Sometimes they make me choose after I just met them for the first time. I usually size them up really well and they leave with a drink that they like. And if they can’t choose between two flavors, I often suggest they get both.

    And the thing is, it’s just coffee. If they don’t like it, they can bring it back and we’ll try again at no additional cost. If only everything else in life was that easy.

    The other side of the coin is when people are so sure about something, they are closed off to anything else. Decisive people can be insecure because they are unwilling to take a risk with something outside their comfort zone. My sister drinks the same coffee every day for the last fifteen years (it’s complicated–be glad you’re not her barista) and won’t try anything else. When we go have coffee together, she’d get mildly interested in what I order, but wouldn’t think to try it herself. She’s a non Christian, she knows what she knows, and isn’t open to any further truth about the Creator of the Universe. She’s mildly interested in what I read in the Bible, but would never think to try to read it herself.

  13. Thank you so much Nancy for your challenging post.
    I’ve always struggled with decision making which really bugs my husband but I am working on it and by the grace of God I will overcome!

    Funny thing is, I have always found myself in groups of indecisive women and for some reason I am delegated the responsibility of making the decision or I get so frustrated with all of the toing and froing that I make the decision.
    Maybe God Does have a sense of humour:) or maybe it’s His way of teaching me to make decisions.

    Also, I’m with Dolly in her request for tips for teaching indecisive daughters, I have two, 5 and 8.
    I have spent many Sunday mornings with tearful girls in front the cupboard trying to help them choose what to wear and often times loosing my cool. Not good just before church.

  14. Ruth,
    Try picking out their clothes the night before. You could make the decision about what they will wear for a few weeks, explaining to them that you are protecting them from the trouble that comes when they can’t decide. Then you could prep them for the time when they get to choose. And if they do a good job (no tears or troubles) then they can do it again the following week. But if it is a struggle, you can go back to your job of making the choice for them. Also, if you start laying their clothes out Saturday evening, it will keep Sunday morning free.

  15. I think that quite a bit of this is inborn. I have two daughters, one naturally indecisive and the other naturally decisive. It’s interesting that the indecisive one needed very few spankings and was always compliant, while the decisive one got more spankings than any of my other children. She was very sure she was right in whatever she wanted!

    We’ve been through the clothes thing too. I think it’s important not to criticize the child’s choice once she has finally made it. (Even if you end up with some less-than-perfect outfit combinations on Sunday morning! Like you say, it’s not earth shattering.)

  16. Praise the Lord that His mercy and grace can overcome anything. His hand is over all things.

    He knit into me a decisive, strong-willed personality; and He placed me into a family as its youngest. By the time of my arrival my parents had so many worries with my mentally retarded brother, and as the years passed with my indecisive but impulsive sister. So it was easy for them to let me make so many decisions, and my willful heart loved being able to. I sure got myself into a lot of trouble that nobody knew about, except God of course.

    Adding to Franci’s comments about decisiveness hiding insecurities, well, it can also hide great sin. Results of bad decisions are hidden at all cost to preserve ‘face’, as Asians say.

    I’m so very grateful my heavenly Father didn’t cast me off as a fool. The discipline He dispenses is not pleasant, but He wants me to attain the prize of greater maturity in His Son. Sound doctrine is a very sweet comfort!

  17. Insecurity is just another word for unbelief, isn’t it? And unbelief is at the root of every sin. In this case, God won’t take care of me, so I have to flail about in perpetual panic because the world is so dangerous and I have no protector. Or I have to protect myself by whatever means, no matter how destructive to myself or others. Or I have to pretend not to need anyone, because ultimately that need can never be met. Or I have to get love at whatever cost, no matter how high the price or how cheap an imitation of love it might purchase. Or I have to dull the pain with substances or shopping or sensation. Or I have to believe in some God-substitute and sacrifice myself on its altar in hopes of gaining its attention and favor.

    “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). We fear the punishment of disapproval, of loneliness, of insignificance, of death. “We love because he first loved us” (4:19). His is the perfect love that casts out the fear by coming in and teaching us how to love. As love grows in us, it shoves out the insecurity. It becomes big, beefy bouncer that tosses that sort of riffraff out the door like a 98-pound weakling.

    At least that’s how I think it’s supposed to work. The 98-pound weakling ends up mopping the floor with my love and stealing its lunch money pretty regularly. But it’s growing. It gets in a few punches now and then. It’s not the wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked, anorexic, quadriplegic, stillborn thing it used to be. A resurrecting God has quickened it and will keep on growing it until the day of Christ, when He will wipe away every tear, every insecurity, every unbelief, and every sin.

    Did I mention that this post hit home with me? 😉

  18. Thank you so much for this post, it has been so encouraging to me. I am very indecisive. I second guess almost every decision I make, whether important or unimportant. I love what you said about after making a prayerful decision, to stop worrying and fretting about it and just trust in the Lord to lead and guide in His will and timing. Again, thank you for the encouragement!

  19. I was a very insecure teenager and I still struggle with it at times, but I am helped by something I learned during a significant time of growth during my college years. Insecurity is the flip side of pride–a grave sin leading to many others. Thankfully I don’t really sweat the really small things anymore. I know it has a lot to do with having recognized God as my shelter and covering and with the fact that He has given me an uncommonly godly husband as a head.

  20. Thank you Mrs. Wilson! I’ve got a lot to learn and have been trying to be at peace with decisions I make for a while now. It is good to realize that being content with decisions isn’t trusting my own judgement but trusting the Lord for what He ultimately planned I would choose at that moment.

  21. I think that indecision (at least for me) can be a symptom of not having enough to do. Because the mind was created for work, if not given any, it will create something work-like for itself. (And let’s face it, indecision is A LOT OF WORK, or at least quite energy-consuming!) I can remember standing in the grocery store, agonizing over which box of crackers to buy–comparing ingredients, price per volume, etc., etc., etc. There is nothing like three little kids in and about the buggy to help speed up that decision!

  22. Great post. Just this past week my husband pointed out to me that he’s put a good deal of effort in the past two years into trying to make me comfortable asking for things, making decisions, and expressing opinions. I’m happy to report that he says I’ve come a long way. For my part I know that my indecisiveness goes hand in hand with my difficulty in expressing emotions and my obsession with being a “good girl.” It all goes back to pride, self-centeredness, and a long history of not feeling protected/fear of being wrong. Being a good girl was safe, but it was also a self-absorbed place of prideful reflection. In some ways I was pushed there. In some ways I took myself.

  23. This article blessed me, because I’ve been in the middle of not being able to make decisions or be decisive in a lot of situations. A lot of this having to do with that I always relied on others (my parents) to do so for me. It is true, I was constantly worried about not being able to make the right decision. “It can be a hindrance to growth and maturity (by refusing to take responsibility);Â and it can be a nuisance to others (Why can’t you make up your mind?).” Oh yes, this “fruit” has been in my life, very forefront. So I am surrounding myself with wise people who are encouraging me to make decisions, trust God more with the outcome, and to not fret over the little things (those small unweighty decisions).

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