The Power of Choice
Written by Hannah Chism
Every time I hear the song “Timshel” by Mumford and Sons I feel very much alive. The song strikes me to my core and I cannot help but be moved by it. It seems to silence all the noise around me and causes me to pause. I first heard the song nearly ten years ago, as a young college student. As an English major, I was required to read John Steinbeck’s novel, East of Eden, which I also fell in love with. I was shocked and delighted to find “Timshel” as not only a part of the text, but the meaning undergirding the entire story. Upon further research, “Timshel” also appears in the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible. “Timshel” literally means “thou mayest,” or that one has the free will to make a choice. This word has served as a reminder both in my personal and professional life that I have ownership over my decisions and can choose how I react to life circumstances. This idea has served to empower me in my career and life choices in that I can rise above the decisions others around me have made.
THE POWER OF CHOICE
It is a liberating concept that we have the power to choose. However, with this responsibility of choice comes great power, as we are then held accountable to steward such power. Sometimes we remain frozen due to being overwhelmed by the amount of freedom we have been given. This occasionally leaves us lost in our careers, stagnant in unhealthy relationships, or otherwise. Sometimes we remain paralyzed in our situations, believing we are not worth the good that lies on the other side of the decision. Or, we cannot shake the exhausting list of ‘what ifs’ or the lengthy pros and cons list of all of the options. Now, there is something to be said for patience, discernment, and peace in making wise life decisions; however, a problem can arise when we realize no perfect option exists and instead of taking the courageous route of necessary yet imperfect change, we remain immobile. Oftentimes, we are in circumstances that feel beyond our control and while in the midst of those circumstances we are rendered powerless. However, we always have a choice of how we respond to such circumstances. While we cannot control the actions of others, we can control our response to such actions. It is important to find ways of achieving ounces of autonomy and empowerment, even if only through little decisions, such as: what to eat, when to drink, or whether to brush our teeth or not. In the words of Beth Moore in Chasing Vines, “Choose what matters now.” Today, is what we have been given; thus, we must steward the autonomy and choices that are within our day. We have the opportunity to live a zestful and zeal-filled life. This involves making choices with conviction and in congruence with our unique values, goals, interests, and personalities. Our choices give life meaning and enable us to live more fully and wholeheartedly.
Within this, I believe we have the power to rewrite our stories. While we cannot change the facts of the story (meaning the events that occurred), we can refine our understanding about ourselves, relationships, and the world around us. This enables us to become a more whole individuals through the process of healing. The key is found in the choices we make moving forward. In order to move forward from previous hurts, intentional healing must occur. The reality is that we live in a fallen and broken world. In all relationships we will be disappointed as no human being is infallible or perfect. This means we will get hurt by others. In order for relationships to remain intact, be healed, evolve, or develop, grace, humility, openness, vulnerability, and forgiveness must be practiced (more on that in another blog, as this is not a novel). As adults, we have more freedom to choose who we surround ourselves with and who we allow to speak into our lives. We can limit and create boundaries around those unhelpful or unhealthy voices. Part of rewriting one’s story involves openness to engage in life and relationships, in spite of the risks that come with such engagement. The risks of engaging in life and rewriting our story, far outweigh the risks of disengaging and allowing our stories to be written for us. This does not negate survival efforts or coping mechanisms while in the midst of abusive situations, as sometimes we do need to disengage in order to survive; however, a lifetime of numbness equates to emptiness. Disengagement only serves as a strength when it is essential for survival.
I am deeply passionate about the concept of choice and responsibility. As such, it greatly informs my approach to counseling clients. I believe in empowering clients and restoring hope through empowerment. Many have had instances where their power has been stolen from them due to age, size, gender, social status, race, ethnicity, religion, etc… They have undergone serious injustices, oppressions, abuses, and demoralizations. I hold the hope for clients and individuals that the power is theirs to take back, as it no longer belongs to that other person… To restore what has been lost and rebuild one’s sense of self-efficacy and self-worth. As the wrong inflicted on anyone from another, was never deserved nor the victim’s fault. No one is defined by ___________ (negative/demoralizing/abusive) event. Instead, individuals have been shaped by _________ event and now have a choice of how much power they desire for it to hold their lives… We have a choice of how much we will let it define us and our sense of purpose. We are each more than __________ event. Thus, taking back one’s identity, sense of self, self-worth, self-concept, etc. is a part of restoring one’s dignity and regaining power in one’s life.
Bottom line: we hold the power of choice. I believe we have the capability of being survivors, and that we have the choice to not remain as victims. We have, can, and will overcome adverse circumstances. We have been entrusted with the responsibility to choose our response to life’s tumultuousness. We have the opportunity to move forward. We have the freedom to rewrite and write our stories. So, let’s own our stories - even the ugly parts. Do not let the adversity rule our beings or identity, but instead let it shape part of who we are. We are more than the adversity we have experienced. So, take hope in knowing that we hold power in our relationships and life and steward that power well. Choose to engage in the life we have been given, in spite of all the risks it entails.
*As an aside… The concept of “Timshel” has so radically informed my outlook on life and served as such an empowering reminder that we ended up naming one of our dogs “Timshel.”
**As a practicing mental health therapist, I operate from an integrated framework. In this article some of my theoretical approaches are apparent, such as, Existential (responsibility and freedom/meaning and purpose), Cognitive Behavior Therapy (core belief system), EMDR Therapy (shifting understanding), Narrative Therapy (rewrite story), and Feminist Therapy (empowerment). These theoretical approaches greatly inform my approach to working with trauma healing, including being an EMDR-Trained therapist.
***Please note that if you are currently in a situation involving abuse of any kind, especially domestic violence, it is best to create a safety plan with a trained mental health professional and seek additional support.