When I was a child, I LOVED “choose your own adventure” books. I don’t even know if they make them anymore, but at the time, you could find them in almost any genre you wanted and I adored them. For those unfamiliar, they were written in such a way that you had to make choices in the story and then turn to a page to continue the story based on the choice you had made. As a result, the story was interactive and changed depending on what choices you made. They weren’t exactly literary classics and you couldn’t use them for school book reports, but they were definitely a fun way to wile away a lazy afternoon.
The problem that I quickly encountered with these books, though, was that each choice narrowed down the possibilities in the book. If I chose one thing, I wouldn’t get to read about what could have happened if I chose the other. After I’d finished one story line, I’d find myself trying to re-read the book, over and over, making different choices just to see how the story changed and played out based on them. It was always hard to find a way to explore ALL the possibilities in the book and I always felt like I missed out on some way the story could have gone.
Who knew these books were an amazing life lesson?
This morning, I was discussing with a coworker a choice I am facing. To simplify it, I’m basically going to have to give up something I enjoy in order to take the next step in deepening my observance. His reaction was that this was unreasonable. There must be some compromise or way around it. There must be some way to have both and if there wasn’t, it was my religion’s fault and my Rabbi would need to bend. As I considered his perspective, I realized that opening one door very often means having to close others. Each choice we make has the power to limit other choices we could make. We live in a world, though, that tries to tell us there is some way to “have it all” and that true happiness, fulfillment, and success comes this way, by striving to “have it all.”
I no longer believe that’s true.
In fact, I’ve begun to believe the exact opposite may be true, that by simplifying my life by making choices that do limit, I can find greater peace, greater depth, and greater meaning which all lead to greater happiness and fulfillment. Letting go of something or making a choice that closes another door that looked appealing can sting, but it’s a temporary sting. That sting is soon forgotten as the door I’ve chosen opens up to new possibilities. I soon barely remember there was another door I could have chosen that is now lost. It’s true, I may occasionally daydream about an alternate life that might have been, much like a child flipping through a choose your own adventure book to see what else might have happened, but if I’m happy with the choice I’ve made, those moments of looking back are few.
Choosing a spouse is a great example. When you choose a spouse, you also are closing the door on every other spouse you could have chosen, at least in the near term. Weddings are often chaotic times with conflicting feelings because there is some mourning mixed with the joy. A new life together is beginning, but multiple other potential lives you could have had are ending. The independent single person you were is ending, with some of the more impractical things you might have done as that single person also ending. It might be tougher now to move on a whim or solo climb Mount Everest. The potential lives you might have had with a different spouse are also ending and, even if you’re so thrilled with the life you’re planning with the person you’re marrying, that’s still a lot of potential that is now closed off and left behind.
Yet, for most people who stay married, narrowing down their choices means a much greater depth of relationship and a much richer life than if they hadn’t. If they’d stayed just dating, they wouldn’t have ever had the kind of one-ness they desired. Narrowing down can sometimes mean increasing the potency of something, like boiling down a sauce.
I’ve found this to be true in other areas of my life as well. The more I give up on even trying to “have it all,” the more I enjoy what I do have. The more I concentrate my time and energy in specific areas of my life, the more benefit I see and the more progress I make.
In conversion, I’m always opening new doors and leaving behind others. Often, there is a small mourning that takes place as I let go of one thing to make room for something else. Inevitably, though, I find that it’s not long until the view that narrowed going through the doorway opens up to brand new possibilities I might never have seen until I left the other doors behind.
I look back at my coworker and realize there is no way I could find the words for him to understand this. Maybe he doesn’t even need to. I smile and thank him for his advice and I turn the page.