rebelling against low expectations

They Didn’t Get to Choose: Navigating Our World With Our Grandparents’ Wisdom


I stared out the window at a landscape of small towns and long-established farms rich with family history.

My mom and I were on the way home after visiting my one-hundred year old great-grandma, and I couldn’t help but think of all the changes throughout her life. My reflections on the past mingled with the constant nagging questions about the future that many young people often carry in the back of our minds.

As the farms where my great-grandma and dozens of other relatives had lived out their lives faded from view, my thoughts drifted even farther back in time. I found myself thinking about how much easier life had been throughout history, up until the last century. Not in terms of comfort and convenience, of course. But surely their decisions were easier.

By the time my great-grandma was my age, the world was already changing. But only two hundred years ago, so many of the decisions today’s young people stress over were not decisions at all.

To start with, careers were usually pre-determined by birth. If a boy was raised on a farm, he would most likely be a farmer. If he was born to a tradesman–say a blacksmith or a tanner–that was probably his future profession, too. Higher education was rarely optional–-either they couldn’t afford it, or they could and therefore couldn’t squander the opportunity.

We need to take a lesson from the generations who didn’t get to choose. Share on X

Girls, of course, would fulfill the homemaker’s role in whatever way their station required. If they were poor, they would learn all the skills required to keep a family fed and clothed. If they were wealthy, they would learn to manage the household of servants who did those things.

For either gender, marriage was a simpler decision. Rather than searching high and low for “the one,” people married someone they had grown up with and liked well enough, often at a young age and after a few months (at most) of courtship. That’s not to say they weren’t in love, but they focused on making the marriage work because they had to, rather than expecting it to fulfill all their deepest dreams and desires. Being single or getting divorced were rarely options, so they did what they had to in order to be content.

I could go on for a while–people didn’t move from place to place as much, so they didn’t have to make those decisions. Whenever they made purchases, the options were fewer. They had only a handful of outfits to choose from, and meal choices were limited to the available ingredients.

The Choices We Face

Many young Christians are asking these questions: Should I pursue a career or go into ministry? What career or what type of ministry? What should I have for dinner? Who should I marry? Should I even get married? If I do get married, should I have kids? Should I keep watching this TV show until 1:00 am, or read my Bible for a while and then go to bed? What does God want me to do with my life? What does He even want me to do today?

It’s no wonder anxiety and depression are on the rise and “decision fatigue” is a real thing. On the one hand, all these decisions are a blessing–the ability to choose the direction of our lives is a freedom many generations haven’t had. But that freedom can also paralyze us with fear.

We live in a world with choices. But we don’t have to let those choices drive us insane. Share on X

It’s okay to prayerfully explore all of the possibilities of what God might be calling us to do with our lives, but at some point we have to make a decision. And that’s when we need to take a lesson from the generations who didn’t get to choose.

The Lesson For Us

At the root of all our anxieties about these decisions is a fear of what will happen if we make the wrong one. We’re afraid we’ll mess up God’s plan for our lives, marry the wrong person, or land in a career that doesn’t fulfill us. But when people didn’t get to choose those things, were they in a constant state of depression and discontentment? Not usually. They were often more content than we are.

Why? Because they had what they had and made the most of it. Lives were, for the most part, rhythmic and routine. People got up in the morning, did their chores, fed their families, and went about their daily work. When they were tired from a long day of hard work, they relaxed with simple pleasures and rested with sleep, rather than with a constant bombardment of entertainment choices.

They worked harder than we do and had less entertainment, but they don’t seem to have been overwhelmed and restless like our generation. When their lives got hard, they didn’t wonder if they had made the right choices. Instead, they dug in their heels and worked through it. If their life was too routine, they didn’t binge-watch TV all night to alleviate their boredom. Instead, they found delight in the simple things.

Once you’ve done everything you can to seek God’s will, make a choice and follow through with it. Share on X

For most of us, the simplest path is not to carry on our family’s business or marry the boy down the road. We live in a world with choices. But we don’t have to let those choices drive us insane. Like our ancestors, we can still live simply and be content with the life God gives us, whether he gives it through our own choices or factors we can’t control.

Once you’ve done everything you can to seek God’s will, make a choice and follow through with it. Trust that he is powerful enough to accomplish his purpose in you, whether you’re choosing what to do for the rest of your life or what to do tomorrow. If you are seeking him, he won’t let you get very far down the wrong path. Don’t second guess and constantly worry about whether you made the right choice when it gets difficult.

No matter which path you choose, there will be rough spots. There will also be beautiful spots. Do your best with whatever God gives you, and be content to follow him. You’ll never regret it.

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About the author

Marli Scarborough

is a 21 year old homeschool graduate who lives and writes in South Dakota. When she’s not writing, she spends her time reading, cooking, or drinking coffee. Her passion is to use her writing to help others love and enjoy Jesus more. To read about her adventures in exploring city life after growing up on a ranch, you can follow her blog at or on Facebook at

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