While the lack of choices and opportunities available to past generations left some people feeling claustrophobic, the glut of choices available to present generations leaves many feeling a strange version of agoraphobia. On the surface, having more choices might seem to ease the burden of decision-making. But as Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wisely observed centuries ago, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”
Gen Z knows this dizziness and panic all too well. Born into a culture of unprecedented freedom of choice and self-expression, this cohort is beginning to feel the anxiety of such freedom. They’ve been told their entire lives that they can create themselves, define and redefine themselves, and choose their own unique paths.
Yet, without the clear markers and directions of agreed-upon values and priorities, such a freedom turns into panic and fear. Decisions, from the minute to monumental, shift from a privilege to a problem to a source of panic. What if I make the wrong decision? What if I end up on the wrong path? How do I know what advice to take? Are my own feelings and desires trustworthy guides?
Thankfully, God does not leave his people standing on the precipice of decisions with panic and fear. Knowledge of the triune God and his provisions for his people transforms the panic of decision-making into a pathway of praise.
Parsing out the Panic
To get past the panic we experience when making decisions, it’s helpful to tease out our underlying fears. Beneath the overwhelm, we often find fear of harm, fear of failure, fear of shame, and many others. The downside of getting to choose from countless career paths, places to live, and relational opportunities is the crushing weight of fearing you’ll make the wrong decision and have to live with the blame, regret, and consequences.
When self is our chief director, self must bear the crushing weight of consequences alone. But when Christ is our chief director, we can cast our burdens on him (Ps. 55:22). Identifying the fears contributing to our panic creates opportunities to remember the promises of God.
Remembering God’s Provision
Growing up in the age of the smartphone and the social media influencer, Gen Z is used to following the latest trends and finding expert advice with a few clicks or swipes. We may find comfort from input and information, but Christianity offers something different: a vital relationship with the triune God. In the Father, we have One who sovereignly steers our lives with his gracious providential hand (Rom. 8:28). In the Son, we have a pioneer who has gone ahead of us as God-become-man (Heb. 12:1–3). We have One who knows our fears, weaknesses, and temptations, and invites us to come confidently to him for grace and help (Heb 4:15–16). In the Holy Spirit, we have a live-in guide, comforter, and pointer to the truth (John 14:15–17, 26–27). He is with us on the precipice of decisions, with us along the paths we choose, and with us as we wrestle with consequences.
For generations used to GPS navigation giving instructions at every turn, the offerings of the triune God may seem foreign at first. However, as we grow in our understanding of God’s character, our panic begins to give way to praise. Rather than fearing what we don’t know, we can take comfort in knowing the character and promises of God.
Pursuing a Pathway
In a digitized world where we can simultaneously watch hundreds or thousands of virtual friends live their lives in real time, it makes sense that Gen Z feels dizzy and panicked, wondering if they’re on the “right” path. Understanding the nature of God frees us to get back into the fray of real life with resilient hope and relevant guidance. God does not make our decisions for us because he has made us in his image (Gen 1:27–28). He has given us the privilege of moral agency and left us with much freedom in this life.
However, he has also given us necessary guidance in his life-giving and living Word (Heb. 4:12–13; 2 Tim. 3:16–17). In Scripture, God gives us prescriptive commands and descriptive examples that help us make decisions.
We may find comfort from input and information, but Christianity offers something different: a vital relationship with the triune God.
His moral law crosses out some paths for us, limiting us for our good and his glory. The stories of those who have gone before us provide hope and perspective. We see God provide for his people in the midst of poor decisions and work good from hard circumstances (Gen. 45:5–15). The Psalms remind us that we can cry out to God in confusion or fear. They point us to hope in God who directs our steps and delights in our prayerful dependence (Ps. 25:9–10; 43:3–5).
In a world buzzing with frantic feeds and newsreels, Gen Z understandably feels the pressure and panic of decisions. However, this cultural moment can also be a unique opportunity to show the watching world a different path that leads to both peace and praise. While God doesn’t always tell us which decision to make, he never leaves us alone in our panic. Rather, he walks with us and directs us. We need not fear the open places and myriad opportunities set before us. Instead, we can walk into them with the provision of God’s Word and the promise of his presence.
Read more from Aimee Joseph in her book, Demystifying Decision-Making: A Practical Guide (Crossway/TGC, 2022).