Mandy* sat across from me, a wad of tissues in her hand. She’d been crying for several minutes now as she recounted how her husband of six months had gotten into a rage, destroyed framed pictures on the wall and had taken a hammer to her pickup truck.

Her oldest daughter, who’d been in the house at the time, had already told me how frightened she was of her stepdad.

This wasn’t the first time Ray* had come unglued. In fact, Mandy had told me on several different occasions that Ray had a temper. As she cried out her hurt and anger over this latest incident, I remembered a conversation we’d had just seven months earlier after I’d met Ray. I’d seen him lose his temper with Mandy. I was concerned about her marrying him, and Mandy expressed concern as well.

Yet she went ahead with the wedding.

Listen to your heart?

Unfortunately, Mandy’s story is not unusual. Many people struggle with the consequences of their decisions, especially those impacting relationships. Decision making can be tough and have devastating repercussions.

When we are faced with a difficult decision, how do we make it? Are we guided only by our emotions, as so many are?

How many times have we heard it said, “It felt right at the time” or “If it feels good, just do it”? These ideas are common in our culture and found often in popular literature, music and film. I’m reminded of a song several years ago that said, “Listen to your heart, there’s nothing else you can do.”

But is that really true? Is it really all we can or should do, when we’re faced with choices, to go by how we feel in the moment?

Like shifting sand

Imagine for a moment walking on a sand dune. It can be a lot of fun to walk, run or play in the sand; but sand is not known for its stability. Sand is always shifting, which makes it a very unstable foundation. You wouldn’t want to build something on it that’s meant to last.

Emotions are like that shifting sand. What we feel today is not what we will feel tomorrow. Or the feeling may be the same but the intensity may be different.

The life we build is the result of a lifetime of decisions. If we are not happy with the life we currently have, it’s good to take a look at the foundation we are basing our decisions on.

For example, when Mandy first revealed to me what it was like living with Ray, she expressed anger at how he would treat her and her three children. But the very next week when I saw her again, she was less angry and more defensive of his actions. Her feelings had changed, and what she had resolved to do out of anger only a week prior had now shifted out of a mix of other feelings.

She was able to talk herself out of leaving because she felt differently about what had happened. The problem was, Ray was still the same volatile person.

A different guide

It can be helpful to think back on some of our own choices. How many times were we influenced by emotions of fear, loneliness, anger or hurt? Do we now regret any of those decisions?

Wouldn’t it be better to be guided by something that isn’t always shifting like that sand dune—something solid and unchanging?

That’s what values are for. Values are standards, or core beliefs, that are meant to provide a solid foundation on which to make our decisions. While emotions fluctuate and can be confusing, our values should be rock-solid and unmoving.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that emotions are not important. In fact, they often motivate us to take action in our lives. For example, anxiety about a big exam or a presentation at work might make us prepare better. Emotions give us information about ourselves and help us to interact with others. And, yes, they do play a role in decision making.

The problem occurs when we disregard our values to accommodate our hearts.

Mandy’s decision first to marry and then to stay with Ray is a good example of this. Mandy talked often about how much her children mattered to her and how they were her priority. She wanted them to be safe and said she wouldn’t bring another man into their lives who didn’t treat her or them with love.

But when it came right down to it, the way Ray made her feel (when he wasn’t angry) mattered most. She was tired of being alone.

Had she had been guided by her desire to have a healthy, safe family and to be a mother her children could depend on for safety and protection, things may have turned out differently. Instead, her emotionally based decision was to have a long-lasting impact on her and her children.

A solid foundation for decision making

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that places a higher priority on feeling good than on doing right. Instead of living by a moral code of ethics or standards, many people have embraced the concept of moral relativism, which means that what they consider right or wrong is determined by their ever-changing circumstances and emotions.

But is defining right and wrong something we should decide for ourselves? Or is there a standard of measurement that we should all follow?

In Exodus 20:1-17 God laid out His standards for us in the 10 Commandments. In His laws God tells us what our value system should be, and in Galatians 5:22-23 the apostle Paul writes of the fruit or results that come from living according to these laws: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Imagine enjoying a life that reflects these characteristics! When we make decisions that are guided by God’s unmoving, rock-solid principles, a fruitful, happy life is the result.

In Matthew 7:24-27 Christ told His followers: “Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

The life we build is the result of a lifetime of decisions. If we are not happy with the life we currently have, it’s good to take a look at the foundation we are basing our decisions on.

Mandy has struggled because she built upon her feelings. She eventually divorced; her children have grown weary and distrustful of promises made but not kept.

But Mandy’s struggle doesn’t have to be ours. While mistakes are inevitable, when we base our decisions upon the right foundation—the Word of God—and trust in Him, we can be assured that what we build will be rock-solid and will weather whatever life brings.

Learn more about this solid foundation by downloading our free booklet God’s 10 Commandments.

*Client names have been changed to protect privacy. Debbie Pierce, LPC, NCC, is a licensed psychotherapist and has practiced for 20 years.

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