I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. (Deuteronomy 30.19-20)
We’ve all known people who survived insults and injuries only to waste an inordinate amount of time (theirs and others’) keeping their ordeals alive. And before going on, I should clarify they’re not tragic souls severely traumatized by physical, emotional, or sexual violence. They’re the sorts who encounter difficulties on par with anyone else: neglectful parents, rival siblings, faithless lovers, bad neighbors, treacherous colleagues, overbearing relatives, deceitful friends—i.e., the usual suspects in life’s rogues’ gallery. Which raises the first question: Who doesn’t smart from wounds inflicted by toxic people? (No one.) Yet these folks are convinced their conflicts merit constant revisiting. They develop a genius for derailing even the most banal conversations with embittered recollections of what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” She did this to me. He said that to me. They treat me terribly. Desperation to set themselves apart with victim statements typically ends with others setting them aside, because there’s just no good answer to the next question: If the people who hurt them are/were so toxic, why go on talking about them? Over time, people who nurse toxic wounds turn toxic by choice, which invites many around them to choose to walk away.
Substances we abuse—from sugar to hard drugs—are poisons. Taken in small amounts they trigger euphoria caused by our bodies releasing chemicals and altering responses to counteract their effects. Used consistently, however, the body begins to anticipate their influences to the point it depends on them. As any addict can verify, unchecked desire to get high leads to uncontrollable drive to get “normal.” The only way to reset the body’s natural balance is by consciously choosing to deprive it of intoxicants it relies on. This physiological requirement is no different than the psychological one to restore mental and emotional balance after habitually poisoning ourselves with toxic people and memories.
Dangerous people and places can be intoxicating in euphoric ways. They’re new to our systems and set off a lot of exciting bells and whistles. But when the ugly side of the thrill surfaces, it’s ours to choose whether it continues to absorb our time and energy or we treat it like an unfortunate lapse that results in nausea and hangover. Nursing poison makes toxicity normal. Resolutely rebounding from toxic episodes is how we restore healthy equilibrium to heart, mind, and soul. When we wrest our minds from intoxication’s hold—be it after a nasty bender or years soaked in bitterness—what’s most important is summoning the resolve to deprive ourselves of the poison. Deciding makes the difference.
Responsibility of Choice
The importance of making healthy decisions impacts every area of our lives. Everything we do, we do by choice. Moses repeatedly stresses this in his departing instructions to Israel. Up to this point, he’s made all the decisions for them, most of them good. He’s also made some really bad ones, though, that cost his privilege to enter The Promised Land with his people. And now he’s greatly concerned that the Hebrews’ unfamiliarity with responsibility of choice may lead to disaster. The euphoria of living in a strange land among strange people may incite them to choose toxic ideas over godly ideals. They may mistake God’s blessings for entitlements. They may presume the victories and miracles of God’s continued intervention are of their own doing. They may choose arrogance that leads to death and disobedience that gives rise to curses.
Moses challenges Israel, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 30.19-20) Choose life. It sounds so simple. Yet as we watch Israel repeatedly suffer from irresponsible choices, we’re reminded opting for healthy, life-affirming attitudes and actions often presents us with tough decisions. Sure, at times, what’s best is immediately apparent. In these situations, it’s easy to decide which choices lead to life. But many more times, our options lack clarity and outcomes aren’t at all assured. We may be misled by what initially seems right. Once we discover the flaws in our choice, new decisions come into play.
It’s Not Too Late
Proverbs 14.12 tells us, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” It’s not at all unusual to travel far down a seemingly healthy path before we realize it steers us in deadly directions. It’s hardly uncommon to have euphoria overtake us to such a degree we’re unaware we’ve become captives to poisons that intoxicate us. Yet clarity that eluded us at first eventually makes itself known. We recognize the road we’ve taken is no way to go. Its toll costs more than we can pay. It won’t end in blessings and life we crave. Our need to compensate for toxins we encounter on unhealthy paths creates unhealthy dependencies. We’re out of balance. It’s time for a new decision.
Will we stick with our original choice, knowing it curses us to die a slow death? Will we continue to feed its toxins with increased doses of “woe-is-me”? Or will we choose life? Will we consciously deprive ourselves of deadly influences we’ve come to rely on? Will we purge our conversations of life-depleting victim statements? Will we rid our hearts, minds, and souls of self-defeating bitterness? Will we quit our road to nowhere for one that leads to blessings and life?
“Choose life,” Moses says, “so that you and your children will live and that you may love God, listen to God, and hold fast to God.” The decision to abandon toxic people, situations, and mindsets has far-reaching implications. It restores our inner balance, as well as the balance of lives we touch and our balance with God. Inevitably, we’ll make bad decisions. We’ll choose ways that appear right only to discover they lead to death. Thankfully, we’re never forced to live with bad choices. Choosing life consistently asks us to make new decisions—tough decisions. But if blessings and life are truly what we seek, we’ll muster the resolve to choose what’s best. No matter how long we’ve suffered due to faulty choices in the past, it’s not too late. Undoing the past can’t be done. But choosing a better path is well within our capability. Deciding makes the difference.
No matter when we discover a chosen road won’t end in blessings and life, it’s never to late to decide on a better path.