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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Monkey Bars or Swings: Choice vs. Obedience

Even in my brokenness, I always believed God loved me. Obeying God was a huge thing to me. I believed that if I always did exactly what God told me to do, I would survive and live the life I was supposed to live--the one God had all planned out for me. This belief system required me to keep the really awful things that happened to me repressed and blame myself for those things I couldn't forget. I had about a million inner structures and coping strategies to accomplish this.

There were many times when God clearly directed me. Going to therapy was one of those. I would never have made that choice, but my almost obsessive need to obey God in order to survive was something God understood. It wasn't as much about a spiritual desire to follow God as it was a complete lack of confidence in my ability to make good choices.

I am grateful that God helped me survive by being so clear about good choices I should make. The only problem is that sometimes when God wasn't clear, and I was left to make the choice I had to convince myself it was really God's choice. If it didn't turn out well, then I had to justify it as being God's plan for me. Choosing something that didn't fit into the church box of acceptable was never an option.

The day I realized God wanted me to make my own choices was absolutely terrifying. You mean I can't just live my life in absolute obedience to God and see everything through that lens? God doesn't have some perfect plan for me to chase after? When I make a choice that someone else turns into trauma that isn't how God wanted my life to be? The realization that the bad things that happened to me weren’t because I made a bad choice or disobeyed God was paralyzing.

The idea that all the choices in the world were available to me was also terrifying. I was paralyzed for months because of this. God simply wanted good things in my life? God wanted me to use all the ways I was learning to be who I was created to be, love that ‘me,' and live out the desires of my heart? That was just too wide open.

Having that many choices was overwhelming. What if I made the wrong choice? Would God punish me for disobedience? When bad things happened would it be because God was punishing me so I would listen next time? Then it began to sink in. Beyond moral principles, and loving God, and my neighbor as myself, the choices were much bigger than I had allowed myself to believe.

Of course now that I don't blame everything on God's will or my disobedience, I can see some choices that I made while living in a middle class church box and looking through a trauma lens that weren't in my best interest—but not inherently wrong. What human alive doesn't look back and see a choice that might have worked better?

It is just life folks; and life is about the hand we were dealt and the choices we make. God is a fabulous guide but the goodness he desires for us doesn't begin or end with every single choice we make. What a limiting view of God.

This applies to me today because I signed a contract to publish my book yesterday. I had been determined to self publish for a number of reasons, but I received an offer—out of the blue. The old me would have just obeyed something that arrived out of the blue like that—since things that come out of the blue are clearly God and I would have to obey. The new me, stepped back and realized this was simply a choice. I asked for advice. I thought about my goals for publishing the book (in this venue or any venue). I made a choice based on the advice I received and the fact that accepting the contract would help me reach my goals more efficiently and effectively.

Was it God's will? Was it God's plan? Did I obey? This old line of thinking kept me awake after I made the choice. It was paralyzing. All the while God was cheering because I made a choice without considering it a non-choice issue of obedience. I was missing this point while I second-guessed myself all night long.

There will be good and not so good results from this choice--maybe not with the process, but inherent in telling my story in such a public way. Self-publishing probably would have slowed the impact—ahhhh, my self-protection mechanisms are strong. Receiving both good and not so good from a choice is just life. The real choice was publishing at all. I am willing to risk the not-so-great repercussions in order to redeem my story by helping others. It is my choice.

I was like a small timid child who was terrified to step out on the playground. I needed God to direct me to the monkey bars or the swing. My internal structures that should have enabled me to grow and become independent were severely stunted and damaged. God knew this and cared for me like a wounded child, but when everything was in place for me to heal, I had to use that crazy obedience thing one last time to choose to go to therapy. This was a choice that I should have been able to make by myself; but I could not. Therapy and my therapist became my secure base where I could safely heal the damage and slowly learn to make my own choices.

I am aware that I looked way more spiritual when I was taking wild leaps of faith in obedience to God. I was a child standing on a ledge, closing my eyes, and leaping to what would either be the arms of God or a painful crash that I had to believe God intended in order to build my character. Either way, the choice wasn't really mine. It was survivalist thinking that narrowed my life in innumerable ways and probably prevented much of the good God desired for me.

This doesn’t discount God’s love and care for me while I suffered internally for 60 years. It also doesn’t change the fact that I wasn’t actually ever choosing while I tried to control my life—but it certainly looked spiritual.

Swings or monkey bars? Today I chose the swing, but it didn't mean the monkey bars would have been the wrong choice. I believe God would have joined me on the adventure either way. What a great way to live. I never knew. Spiritualizing the choices I made out of unhealthy wholeness may have looked ‘godly’ but it is so far from what God desired for me.

It is truly exciting to think about all the good that God desires for me in the years I have left here on earth. There is a whole world of possibilities from which to choose. Some will work out great, and some won’t. Happy things will happen and sad things will happen. I will help some and make others uncomfortable. Some will join me on the adventure and some will walk away.

There will be times when God will continue to clearly direct me to the best choice, but mostly I will choose. That is really how it was supposed to be. There will be opportunities that fit my goals and I will walk through those doors. There will be some spiritual looking opportunities I will choose not to pursue because it isn’t a good fit. I will laugh, and play, and write, and have compassion for myself and for others. I have a purpose that helps me choose wisely and I understand my survival instincts hindered my ability to make choices and caused me to make way too much out of obedience. But it certainly looked and seemed spiritual.

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