Lesson 31: Decision Making

The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part B, (2000), 263–70


The purpose of this lesson is to help us understand the importance of making wise decisions.

Why We Must Learn to Make Decisions

“‘Can’t we go any faster?’ I asked anxiously as we rode along the graveled highway in our newly purchased secondhand pickup.

“Mama smiled. ‘Why the big hurry?’ she teased as if she didn’t know.

“‘I can hardly wait to buy the shoes,’ I answered. I was so excited, for it had been nearly a year since I … had been taken to the store to buy new shoes. …

“The town with the big country store was four long miles away, and it seemed like forever before we finally arrived.

“As soon as we were parked, I jumped out of the pickup and ran into the building. I hurried past the canned goods, down through the hardwares, and wasn’t quite to the shoe department when suddenly I saw them. There on a middle shelf that was tilted up a little was a pair of bright red shoes sitting on a silver stand. I stopped short and caught my breath in awe at the beauty of their color and the daintiness of their sandal-type straps. …

“Mama came up behind me, and I led her directly to the shelf.

“‘May I have these?’ I asked hopefully. Mama studied the shoes for a long moment.

“‘They aren’t very practical,’ she said finally. …

“‘I’ll be ever so careful with them,’ I coaxed. ‘Please.’

“The clerk came up and measured my foot.

“‘The red shoes are a half size too small,’ she said, ‘and it is the only pair we have left. However,’ she added when she saw the disappointed look on my face, ‘sometimes sandal-type slippers run a little larger than the average shoe. Would you like to try them on and see?’

“Mama reasoned with me, telling me my feet needed room to grow even if the shoes did fit now. …

“The shoes, with a built-in toe and heel, felt tight, but nevertheless I succeeded without too much effort in getting them both on, and I stood and looked down in admiration.

“‘May I have them?’ I asked, feeling, without doubt, that I could stretch the tiny straps in a short period of time to fit comfortably.

“The shoes didn’t look too small, but Mama seemed certain that there wasn’t enough room for my feet to grow. …

“My hopes declined. … Mama focused her forehead into another deep-thought wrinkle as she walked over and picked up a pair of brown oxfords in the size I needed.

“‘Why don’t you try these on,’ she said; ‘then you can make the decision yourself.’

“I was elated. Even though I had made decisions before, I had never made one as important as this. …

“As I slipped one of the brown shoes on and tied the lace, it felt good in comparison to the red one on my other foot. I pondered silently as I tried to decide fairly, considering the good and bad points of each pair of shoes. The oxfords would last longer, and they were more comfortable, but they were so brown and plain, sort of ordinary looking really, and besides, they were the kind I had always worn. The red shoes were beautiful, and I wanted something different. … Admittedly, they did squeeze, but I could suffer for a day or two if need be. … Yes, I would take the red ones. …

“The next two days I wore the pretty shoes in misery. Then a blister appeared on each of my big toes, and the misery turned to agony. …

“Finally, I could stand it no longer. With tears close to my eyes and the red shoes held firmly in my hands, I went to Mama. My lip quivered, but I was determined not to cry. … I stood for a minute trying to gain my composure and to think of something … to say.

“‘They pinch and they hurt,’ I blurted out honestly.

“Her answer came as such a surprise to me that all I could do was to stand with my mouth open saying nothing.

“‘We do not always make the right decisions,’ Mama said as she went to a drawer and took out a package containing the brown shoes. As she handed them to me she added softly, ‘And sometimes it takes a pinch of hurt to help us be more wise the next time we have something important to decide’” (Lena Mae Hansen, “A Pinch of Hurt,” New Era, Mar. 1977, 49–50).

  • What lesson did the girl learn? How did the mother help her daughter learn to make decisions?

  • What are some decisions you can help your children make?

Teaching our children to make wise decisions is an important part of our responsibility as parents.

Wise Decisions

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“We hope we can help our young men and young women to realize … that they need to make certain decisions only once. … Some determinations made early in my life … were such a help to me because I did not have to remake those decisions perpetually. We can push some things away from us once and have done with them! We can make a single decision about certain things that we will incorporate in our lives and then make them ours—without having to brood and redecide a hundred times what it is we will do and what we will not do.

“Indecision and discouragement are climates in which the Adversary lives to function, for he can inflict so many casualties among mankind in those settings. … If you have not done so yet, decide to decide!” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 69–70; or Ensign, May 1976, 46).

  • Why should you learn to make your decisions wisely?

Each day we are required to make many decisions, some of which are easier to make than others. Some may not have important or eternal consequences, whereas others will have consequences that will influence our lives eternally.

We have the opportunity to make decisions because we have been given agency, or the right to choose (see lesson 2, “Agency and Accountability,” in this manual). With that gift, we are also given the responsibility for the choices we make. Therefore, it is important that we seriously consider the consequences of each decision.

  • What are some decisions that all of us must make? (List answers on the chalkboard.) What are some possible consequences of these decisions? (List each on the chalkboard opposite the corresponding decision.)

  • Read 1 Kings 18:21. How can deciding to live the commandments of God make other decisions easier?

  • How does our decision to join the Church influence other decisions we must make?

Making some basic decisions early in life will free us from making a lot of troublesome day-to-day decisions later. For example, if we have already decided to live by the Word of Wisdom, we will not have to decide whether we should accept a cigarette or an alcoholic beverage when it is offered to us.

  • What are some decisions that can make other decisions easier?

Many of the decisions made in our youth have eternal consequences. One of the most important decisions young people make is whom they will marry. Therefore, decisions about dating are especially important.

  • What are some decisions that would influence the choice of a spouse?

  • Why is it important that we learn how to make wise and inspired decisions?

“We are constantly making … decisions. The outcome determines the success or failure of our lives. That is why it is worthwhile to look ahead, set a course, and at least be partly ready when the moment of decision comes” (Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 72; or Ensign, July 1972, 69).

How to Make Wise and Inspired Decisions

Prayerfully Consider Alternatives

“Making decisions is probably the most important thing people ever do. Nothing happens until someone makes a decision” (Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties [1974], 145). For this reason it is important that we learn to make wise decisions. In order to do so, we must learn to consider all possible solutions. This includes gathering facts and assessing what the results of each possible choice will be.

President Ezra Taft Benson suggested that we use the following six questions as a guide in decision making:

  1. 1.

    Could it retard or injure spiritual or moral progress?

  2. 2.

    Could it create unhappy or unpeaceful memories?

  3. 3.

    Is it contrary to the revealed will or commandments of God? …

  4. 4.

    Could it harm any individual, family, or group?

  5. 5.

    Would the decision make [me] a better person? …

  6. 6.

    Could a blessing be derived from this particular action? [See D&C 130:20–21]” (God, Family, Country, 151).

  • How would answering these questions help you make wise decisions?

After considering the possible solutions and their consequences, we must select the solution we feel is best. This is often the most difficult part of making decisions. When we make prayer part of this process, Heavenly Father can help us understand the results of different choices and guide us in selecting the best alternative.

  • Ask class members to select an important problem that requires a decision. Write it on the chalkboard. Discuss possible solutions and their consequences.

Counsel with the Lord

Wise and inspired decisions come through prayerful consideration and effort on our part. After we have prayerfully considered the possibilities and selected the best alternative, we should counsel with the Lord before we make our final decision.

  • Read Jacob 4:10. How can Heavenly Father help us make the best decisions?

In addition to counseling with the Lord for guidance in personal decisions, we often need to counsel together as husbands and wives, as parents and children, as fellow workers in the Church, and as friends. We should counsel together to consider decisions and gain experience from others. Often we can solve our problems by reading the scriptures and learning from experiences recorded there or by studying our patriarchal blessings.

Elder Boyd K. Packer suggested:

“When you have a problem, work it out in your own mind first. Ponder on it and analyze it and meditate on it. Read the scriptures. Pray about it. I’ve come to learn that major decisions can’t be forced. You must look ahead and have vision. …

“Ponder on things a little each day and don’t always be in the crisis of making major decisions on the spur of the moment. …

“Do you go to the Lord with a problem and ask Him to make your decision for you? Or do you work, read the revelations [scriptures], and meditate and pray and then make a decision yourself? Measure the problem against what you know to be right and wrong, and then make the decision. Then ask Him if the decision is right or if it is wrong” (“Self-Reliance,” Ensign, Aug. 1975, 88–89).

  • Read Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9. What steps does this scripture outline for us to follow in making decisions? How can we know if we have made the right decision?

  • Read Doctrine and Covenants 6:22–23. What is another way that we can know we have made a righteous decision? What are still other ways we can know we have made a decision that is pleasing to Heavenly Father?

At times, we may feel like we have not received an answer or confirmation of our decisions. Elder Dallin H. Oaks offered the following explanation of this kind of experience: “We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, March 1997, 14).

Sometimes, even if we go through all the necessary steps, we may make the wrong decision. However, if we continue to pray and counsel with the Lord, He will guide us and help us understand how to correct our course and make a better decision. Elder Loren C. Dunn related an experience that illustrates this point:

“I can remember a few years ago when I had a critical decision to make. … I had an important job offer made to me and I went through all of the steps … , made a decision to the best of my ability, then contacted the people and turned them down. The next twelve hours I went through almost a ‘hell,’ before I realized that the Lord was trying to tell me I had made the wrong decision. Interestingly enough, the people whom I had turned down called me again and upped their offer—I would have been more than happy to settle for whatever they offered me in the first place! Yet I use this example to point out that if we go through these initial steps and put the whole thing in the hands of the Lord, if it happens to be a wrong decision we will find it very, very difficult to carry it out. … Somehow he will guide us back in the direction he wants us to go” (Establish Divine Communication, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [24 Mar. 1970], 4).

  • What steps of the decision-making process are emphasized in this story? Why is it important to have the confirmation of the Spirit when making decisions?

Elder Marion G. Romney, in speaking of Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9, said: “This is the kind of revelation we can all live by. One need not make serious mistakes in life. Such can be avoided by following this formula. It will guide us in all our activities if we will become sensitive to it” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 125; or Improvement Era, June 1964, 506).

Following Through on Wise Decisions

Once we have made a wise and inspired decision, we must be firm in our commitment to follow it. Because of the many pressures that can turn us away from our goals, we must realize that making right decisions includes a commitment to follow through. Even if others try to convince us to deviate from our decisions, we should remain firm.

We must not be “led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her” (Mormon 5:18). We must give direction to our lives by following through on the decisions we make.

The following incident illustrates how one young woman successfully met an experience that tested her commitment to a decision she had made: “Kathryn … had an opportunity for a summer job selling memberships in a travel club. Part of the job was to travel on weekend trips with the club members all over the Caribbean. As the man finished interviewing her for this exciting job he said, ‘Just one more thing. You wear your skirts too long. Our customers like the sales appeal of young, pretty girls. Shorten your hems by at least five inches.’ Kathryn didn’t get that job, but she gained something far more valuable. … In saying ‘no’ to that experience, she said ‘yes’ to vast new spiritual vistas within herself as a woman who had the strength to resist petty temptation” (Maureen Jensen Ward, “Growing Up Spiritually,” Ensign, Dec. 1975, 55).

  • How can being firm in a decision you have made give direction to your life? How can you gain strength from remaining firm in your decisions? How can your firmness help you make future decisions?

Conclusion

“‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’ [Lao-tse, The Simple Way, no. 64.] This emphasizes the constant need for thoughtfulness in all things, for a respectful, prayerful approach to all problems. It emphasizes also that there is no wisdom, no safety, no assurance in any hasty or stubborn, or shortsighted decision. … For realizing the highest happiness, the peace and progress that God, that a loving Father, can give, we must remember that ‘The journey of a thousand’ years—indeed, the journey of all eternity—’begins with one step.’ And thoughtfully, respectfully, prayerfully we should approach all problems, all choices, all decisions” (Richard L. Evans, “… With One Step … ,” Improvement Era, Aug. 1961, 604).

We should consider the consequences of each possible decision before we take the first step. Once we have prayerfully made a wise and inspired decision, we should be committed to carrying it out.

Challenge

Present a lesson on decision making in a family home evening, allowing for discussion of all the main points outlined in this lesson. Think about some of the decisions you make daily. Ask yourself how you can increase your ability to make wise and inspired decisions.

Write on a sheet of paper the six questions presented by President Benson for evaluating possible decisions. Use these questions, along with Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 and D&C 6:22–23, as a guide whenever you have an important decision to make.

Additional Scriptures

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Read chapter 8, “Praying to Our Heavenly Father,” and chapter 22, “The Gifts of the Spirit” in Gospel Principles.

  2. 2.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.