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Holy Spirit disruptions: Other people’s decisions belong to them

Lynne Baab • Thursday October 7 2021

Holy Spirit disruptions: Other people’s decisions belong to them

In early 2003, our older son called us from Tokyo to ask our advice about whether he should ask his girlfriend to marry him. They were both 22 years old, and they were living with his girlfriend’s parents in Tokyo. They met at age 20 in Seattle, when she came from Japan to do an AA degree at Seattle Central Community College. When they both graduated at 21, she with her AA and he with his BA from the University of Washington, they headed to Japan so he could experience her culture.

My husband Dave and I were very impressed with her, a peaceful, smart, and creative woman who was clearly a gift to our son. I had seen only good come from their relationship, but I also thought they were too young to get married. For the first time as a parent, I really had no opinion of what they should do. Here’s what I said: “You have a challenging decision to make. You two are both a bit young for marriage, but your girlfriend is such a wonderful person.” I can’t remember if we added that we would pray for his decision. Of course, we did pray fervently for wisdom for the two of them.

That moment on the phone with our son was actually pretty amusing. I had spent a decade, while our two sons were teenagers, having very strong opinions about what they should and shouldn’t do. I worked very hard to pray and discern when to speak up and when to keep silent, and keeping silent was excruciating, but so often it seemed to be the right approach. For most of that decade, I got very few requests for advice from our sons. Here was a moment when our son was asking for our advice, and I had nothing to say.

That moment on the phone was life-transforming for me, a Holy Spirit disruption. In my childhood, it felt like every adult in my life – parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends’ parents, teachers, piano teachers, Girl Scout leaders – had firm opinions about everything. I don’t remember hearing anyone express any doubts about anything or any confusion about what might be the best decision to make. Maybe that was a characteristic of life in the 1950s and early 1960s. Everything was clear. Decisions were obvious.

Or maybe I have a particularly strong propensity to seek right answers. If you like typologies, I am an Enneagram One and my MBTI type preferences are INTJ. Perhaps my own love of answers gave me a particular lens when I looked at the adults in my life, seeing them primarily as people who loved answers because I, too, constantly sought for the best way to do things and believed I could find it.

Whatever the cause of my love of trying to find the right answer, that moment in 2003 on the phone with our son in Tokyo gave me a glimpse into a way of living where we affirm that people have challenging decisions to make. We support them by providing a listening ear and being a sounding board, by believing that they have the wisdom to make good decisions – because after all, it’s their life and not ours – and by praying for them. We limit our advice giving – because after all, it’s their life and not ours – and also because receiving advice is so annoying.

I wish I could tell you I have stopped having strong opinions about what other people should do. In the almost twenty years since that moment, I have improved at seeing that I’m not in charge of other people’s lives. I have improved a little bit at listening and reflecting back rather than giving advice – wow, is that hard! I have developed a set of questions that help me with all of this: “What are your options? What do you see as the pros and cons of those options? In what ways has God been guiding you thus far? What have you tried already? What do you want me to pray for as you make the decision?”

I just read an article in the New York Times about why people love to give advice so much, a closely related topic that I will write about next week. Blessings to you all as you seek to companion people you love as they make hard decisions.

A quick follow-up on the 2003 story: Our son did marry his Japanese girlfriend, and she has been one of the biggest blessings of his life, and Dave’s and my life, too. She is an enormous gift from God, an answer to our prayers for him. It is such a joy to be related to her. A side benefit is that I am so glad their decision to get married was totally theirs. This has freed me in many unexpected ways from feeling responsible in any way for their marriage.

(Next week: advice giving. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” below.)

Two articles about the inner noise of our own thoughts and how to deal with them when listening to someone:

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