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President’s Postscript | Reflections on Choosing

by President J. Derek Halvorson ’93


Derek Halvorson

The topic of choosing is perhaps an ironic one, coming from a Presbyterian. Presbyterians are, after all, Calvinists. But, assuming we can all agree that people do make choices, and that acknowledging that doesn’t constitute a breach of Reformed orthodoxy, I want to set aside the theological debate and address a different question: Do you find it hard to choose? Do you find it hard to say no to one opportunity because you might miss out on another? Personally, I want to do it all. I want to work more and harder than anyone else at the College, and always be there for my family, and serve sacrificially in my local church, and . . . the list goes on. I confess that I get sucked into a culture that encourages us not to choose—a culture that celebrates, perhaps even worships, possibility.


Several years ago, I stumbled across an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education by University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson entitled, “Dwelling in Possibilities.” It was something of a lament over the inability of Edmundson’s students to make choices, to narrow their options, to dive deep into a subject, or to be in one place at a time. Does this resonate with you? It does with me. Life can seem the most exhilarating when there are a multitude of possibilities open to us when we haven’t had to commit to just one.


I will mention—and this is one of Edmundson’s chief concerns—that technology has amplified this problem. Think about the vast potentialities at our fingertips, all hours of the day, every day of the week. The constant allure of other possibilities makes it difficult to be present, to rest where we are.


Whether we’re talking about the possibilities presented to us by technology, or options in life, the problem we face is the same: we have to decide. And deciding means killing off possibilities. Literally, to de-cide means to cut off, or to kill off. It derives from the Latin verb caedo, which means (according to the Oxford Latin Dictionary) “to strike, smite; to kill, slay, murder.” Killing off options is not easy for us. But it’s important, because we are finite creatures, and much as we’d like to be able to do everything and to be everywhere, we cannot.


In order to do something, and to do it well, we need to decide not to do some other things. That isn’t easy. But, we can practice it, even in seemingly little ways, so that the discipline of choosing becomes a part of our person. I’ve recently agreed—at the encouragement of a friend—to turn off my phone when I get home at night, and not to turn it on again. That decision kills off opportunities, it limits possibilities. And, in so doing, it allows me to have integrity, in the literal sense of that term—which means (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) “the condition of having no part or element taken away or wanting; undivided or unbroken state.”


I want to encourage all of us to choose, to make decisions, to be OK with killing off some possibilities. We will be more whole, and more effective, and happier, and more faithful people if we are present in the here and now, in the path we have chosen. The only way we will have the strength to do this is through the power of a God who chose us, who decided to give His own son for us. His decision was not without cost, but in it, through it, we have life, and we have the power to choose.