The Army has been telling us where to go since we got married. The first time was back in 1999; we were newly engaged, and I knew nothing about how the military worked. My fingers were crossed for a European assignment, so you can imagine how far my jaw dropped when my fiancé called and said, “Annyeonghaseo.” It was his witty way of telling me we were moving to South Korea in a matter of months. So long to my European newlywed dreams. This was the first of many lessons for me in the sovereignty of God over seemingly random Army assignments!
Since then, the military has largely dictated when and where our family moves, until now. We are pretty close to transitioning out of the Army, and our focus is no longer on where the Army will send us. Instead, we are trying to figure out where the Lord wants us to go.
The options are endless, and we have 5 children that will be affected by our decision. There are days where I get stuck trying to weigh all the variables. We might as well be inexperienced pilots landing a jumbo jet filled with everything we own, including our children, on a runway blanketed with fog in a place we have never been before.
Big decision points in our families’ lives raise equally big questions. Here are some of our pressing questions; maybe they are yours, too. Where will we live? Where will we worship? Where will we work? What school options are best for us? How we will pay the bills? Once we have sifted through the questions and come up with some reasonable answers, how do we prioritize them? Surely some considerations, like church options or job availability, carry more weight than others.
How do we balance these considerations and make wise decisions for our marriage and family?
Years back when we were faced with another hard decision, a dear chaplain friend advised us to consider the oaths and vows we have taken as a sort of rubric for the decision-making process. He encouraged us to study the way oaths and vows are used in Scripture. You can do a word study of “oaths” or “vows” and find many passages that address their role in the lives of God’s people.
Here are a few of my favorites.
In Deuteronomy 10:20, we read that “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear (ESV).”
We read in Ezra 10:5 that the chief priests, the Levites, and all of Israel are required to swear that they will do as he has instructed (ESV).
The writer of Psalm 61 says in verse 8, “I will ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day,” (ESV).
The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:
Whoever takes an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch to nothing but what he is fully persuaded is truth: neither may any man bind himself to anything but what is good and just, and what he believes so to be, and what he is abled and resolved to perform. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1990 ed.)
We take vows to safeguard what is most precious to us, and by doing so we are promising to perform particular duties.
Think about it: when you were baptized and when you joined a church, you made vows to the Lord to live faithfully and serve Him. When you were married, you made vows to your spouse in front of God, your family, and your friends. In these vows, you defined the terms of your marriage relationship—for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, and so on. And if your children have been baptized or dedicated at your church, then you made vows, once again, in front of God, your family, and your friends that you will raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
We make vows before God in order to safeguard the most sacred commitments of our lives.
So what does this have to do with making tough decisions? Everything. When we are faced with a decision point and cannot tell which way is up, we consider the commitments we have made through our oaths and vows: to the Lord, to our spouses, and to our children. These relationships are our primary duties in this life. We must ask ourselves if any given decision will support or undermine these relationships.
Let’s apply these thoughts to my family’s career transition from active duty to civilian life. My husband and I begin by considering the relationships that we have vowed to protect and nurture. We carefully weigh our options and ask how particular decisions might help or harm our primary commitments. Imagine with me that my husband is offered a fantastic job at an internationally renowned firm on the West Coast. Even though the pay is incredible, the job will require him to be out of the house many nights a week; even some weekends. We probably could make it work, and we would not lack for anything financially. However, as we consider our commitments through the oaths and vows that we have made, we realize this particular job will not support our primary commitments to God, to each other, and to our children.
Even though this job offers financial security, it will take him away from regular worship at church, time with me, and time with our children.
Life is full of complicated decisions, isn’t it?
What a tremendous comfort the words of Hebrews 4:15 are when faced with life’s decision points: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (ESV).
In prayer, we ask our High Priest to guide us as we seek to faithfully uphold the relationships that we have vowed to protect. And then we make the decision trusting in the shelter of His gracious sovereignty.