Christian Living

Decision Making & Our Default Settings

What were the last five decisions you made today? Maybe it was what to have for a meal or how you would satisfy a thirsty feeling. Did you turn music on or off in the past hour? What about the television? Are you taking a break right now, choosing to think about anything other than work? Did you have to prioritize some projects for the weekend?

All day long we make decisions. Some of them we agonize over. There may be a hundred different ways the outcome can change my life or those around me. Other decisions just happen and we move on, knowing what we know with confidence in what we like or dislike.

In a time of continual change, uncertainty lies around every corner. Most of the time it is not like a mugger in a dark alley, waiting to strike and make off with the best we have on us at the time (though it certainly can feel that way). Think of it more like taking a drive down a long highway and toll booths are coming more frequently than they used to.

How quick are your decisions lately? Are you coasting on knowing what you know? Does the thought of other people forcing you into a decision you don’t want to make lead you to frustration, anger and defiance? Maybe you’re like a driver stuck in one of those toll booth’s looking for exact change and the blaring encouragement to get moving from those behind you is making it harder to concentrate.

Chances are, whether you just want to move on and get out of the way or you have dealt with so much recently you just can’t stop and think too hard about things anymore, you have learned to rely on your default settings. Over a short series of posts, let’s take a look at how these work in our lives, where they came from, and what we can do to hone or change them.

I have had a few nightmares as a father. Dreams of my (then) little girls falling off the side of a ferry and having to jump in after them. Of my youngest, only two years old at the time, of walking across a multi-story mall’s upper floor walkway and, because she was antsy and on the run, slipped around the edge of the glass railing and falling while all I could do was watch.

Yeah. Try sleeping after that. In a mixed crowd of kids and parents I was always the one more interested in how safe the kids were than any topic of discussion among adults. Confession: I still am.

Do you know what is so much worse? Wondering how the grown version of those same daughters will handle making decisions in this crazy world.

How your adult (or almost adult) children will make decisions feels like a litmus test for your job as a parent. Did I teach them enough? Are they aware of my bad choices and their consequences? Do they know who to ask for good, godly counsel?

As COVID-19 lockdowns gave way to the distribution of a vaccine to make life “normal” again, I knew it was going to be time to talk about what it meant for us. My oldest daughter, in her twenties, had her first appointment booked before anyone had a chance to talk about it. My youngest daughter, under 18, begged for months to be able to get it.

Once the option was available, people all around me were jumping on board. My shock wasn’t about being in favor of or opposed to the vaccine. I was just shocked at how little thought seemed to go into the decision.

Default programming

In The Mandalorian, the main character has a burning hatred for droids. In the first season he “killed” a bounty hunter droid, only to unexpectedly find it at work in the home of another character later in the season. The Mandalorian’s instinct was to destroy the literal “killer robot” but his friend assured he had reprogrammed it to be protective instead of a killer. The Mandalorian was constantly on the defensive as he waited for the droid’s default programming to kick in again.

We all have default programming inside of us. The Bible talks our sinful nature and its war with the Holy Spirit and the new creation we become as believers in Jesus. It’s a worthwhile topic of discussion, but not where I am headed here.

Every day our hearts and minds run through countless subconscious processes. They react based on how we have programmed them. For example, there are songs in my phone’s playlists that I instinctively skip because I just don’t want to listen to them at the time. Good songs, perfect for the right time, but before five seconds pass my finger is on the button.

Consider this explanation from my book, Tainted:

There is a subconscious filter system through which every moment of your day is processed. Each thought, action, word and experience is pushed through, analyzed, sifted, and sorted before it is deposited in your heart and mind.

These settings save us a lot of time and energy agonizing over what we say, do, reach for, push away. We know what we like (or don’t) and we just react.

Too quick to say “Yes”?

With the COVID-19 vaccine, a lot of people just reacted. Yes, I want to get to back to normal. I don’t want to wear these gross, sweaty masks. I miss my family, my friends, my favorite restaurant, and my hang out places. Give it to me. Make COVID go away. Let’s get it done already.

The excitement was high in a lot of churches as well. Staff and volunteers were just as hungry to get back to normal. Let’s open the doors again and cut down online church, or drop it all together. Let’s get back to worshiping God, having potlucks and fellowships. We want to be able to high-five people as they walk in or give a hug to a dear friend going through a rough time. Sign me up so we can get this ball back in motion.

Local government loved the initial response to the vaccine because it was these people who drove it. They crashed websites to make appointments. Walk-in clinics ran out of doses because of the demand. And the government’s statistics looked amazing.

Fast forward a few months and the exasperation of government was unprofessionally obvious. Over time the argument that “the government said it was okay and it would help us all” lost its shine. The smiles and “Thank you for doing your part” warm fuzzies from officials were gone. Sighs of angst, name calling, dirty looks, and pleas to get vaccinated took over new conferences. It was both hilarious and heartbreaking.

As the vaccine looked like it was going to become available for my daughter in high school over the summer, it was time to sit and have the conversation.

“Why do you want to get the vaccine?”

“All of my friends have it. I don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t have it and then can’t do anything.”

“Okay. Is that the only reason?”

She looked at my wife and me as if to ask, “What other reason is there?”

“Here’s my concern,” I started. “I want to make sure you are willing to think beyond what the government says you should do and what your friends are doing. Because there are going to be times when you are going to have to choose to not do what they say to do.”

That got the wheels turning. Then she heard a few messages about Revelation, and not even the really rough parts. Message received.

From a snowflake to an avalanche

I mention in another post a few reasons for why I am confident the COVID-19 vaccine is not “the mark of the beast” described in the Book of Revelation. If it were, how many people would have rushed to receive it without realizing what they were doing?

Without being a conspiracy theorist, I do like to stop and think about what people tell me I have to or should do. More than ninety percent of the time I am in agreement with their reasoning, probably more than that. (What can I say? I’m a rule follower.)

The message behind Tainted is how those default settings in our hearts and minds get tainted over time. They are like a coffee filter that goes from being clean and ready for use to being stained and full of things we would prefer to avoid floating in or lying in the bottom of our mugs. But if we keep using the same stained filter time and again, we are going to have funky coffee to drink and more frequent mouthfuls of nasty stuff.

COVID-19 is a glaringly obvious example of how our default settings might get us into trouble, whichever side you’re on. It is in our face and there are battles of words based on our choices. But, if you go back to how we started this post, there are hundreds of decisions we make every day.

Our snap decisions are heavily influenced by these internal defaults. Even when we stop and deliberate what to do next we are still filtering through them. How do we get so far down a path we do not intend? How does a snow flake become an avalanche racing to wipe us out? It is our default settings, guiding our decisions, without any awareness they are there or what they are.

Finances. Work habits. Interpersonal relationships. Recreation. Food. The music we listen to. Movies and television shows we watch. Most of these are based on our heart and mind settings, shaped over time, and now running on autopilot.

These times are uncertain, and according to Scripture there are harder, darker days ahead. Our lives, our loved ones, the world around us; there is too much at stake to have our decisions steered by autopilots with no accountability.

Start to pay attention to your default settings.

Which decisions come so quickly and naturally that you never give them a second thought? Take 30 seconds and reevaluate one or two of them. You might need to start thinking differently.

What about those choices you spend a lot of time and energy on? Maybe it is wisdom to think about all of the ins and outs, or maybe you are afraid of doing what you know you should do. Is it deliberate time to keep you from repeating past mistakes, or are you fighting some defaults God wants you to adopt?

Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk — not as unwise people but as wise — making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
(Ephesians 5:15-16 CSB)