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Do I Really Have a Choice?

How does this verse fit in with the title for the blog? This will be explained later.

As I was reading the book "Discipline Without Stress, Punishments or Rewards" by Dr Marvin Marshall, I was conscious of my underlying unease of the topic and the thinking that it was not consistent with what I believed. My mind was closed even though I thought I loved learning and wanted to expand how I understood both myself through God's perspective and then taught this to students, teachers and parents. With my teeth gritted and expecting to disagree with what was presented, I ploughed through the first chapter and found that instead of being opposed to the ideas, it actually brought together all I had been working on with behaviour management and presenting the ideas clearly and in a scripturally sound way, even though it was not presented as a Christian book. The section titled "The Empowerment Of Choice" really caused me to sit up and take note. It started with a quote from Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived a Nazi death camp. He was not in control of what happened to him but he found out that every person has the ability to choose his or her thinking. This choice has a powerful effect on the type of person we become. We have the freedom in every situation to choose our attitude and the way we move forward in life. His famous quote is profound...

They offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing ..... to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances. Viktor Frankl

The first interesting idea raised in Dr Marshall's book was the idea that what stimulates us does not cause us to act in a certain way automatically. We have actually been taught to respond in a certain way. For example, we do not stop at a red light because red lights stimulate a mechanism in the brain that cause all humans to stop. We have been conditioned or taught to stop when a light is red. We can choose to keep going through a red light, but know that either there could be an accident or we will have to make a donation to the government (via a fine!) Being a healthy individual, instead of automatically "responding" to stimuli, we can evaluate how we respond to different things and make changes to how we think and act when different things happen.

An example of this process could be when we have had harsh words said to us when we have either been in the right or wrong. We have two clear choices in the way we process and work through what has been said:-

  1. We can become angry with the person and hold this anger for a short or angry period of time. (eg: How dare they say this to me!!!)

  2. We can say to ourselves that these words hurt and ask ourselves if there is any truth to what has been said? We can ask ourselves what can we do to ensure we do it better next time or what was not correct in what was said to us, that can be discarded. (eg: "Ouch! That really hurt! What has been said that is true and what is not true? How can I deal with this and do it better next time) We can even thank the person for speaking to us about the situation and letting them know that you will work through what they have said with God and make changes as needed.

If you stay angry with the person, you are actually taking that person with you through the rest of the day!! Not sure if I want to do this! I choose the process words in a healthy way and choose to stay positive and full of joy!

The second interesting idea was looking at the way we respond to an impulse or urge. Children wear nappies because they are unable to control their natural urge. For older children and adults, we can learn to control our emotional impulses. When something happens and we feel anger, we have a short moment of awareness before the emotion takes over. When we just react we are being "emotionally hijacked". To be a civil society, individuals must be able to become able to make decisions on how they behaviour not react through the emotion.

This could be, for example, when I am cut off by a rude driver. I could give a rude sign, yell obsenities and think evil thoughts or pray for them, bless them and realise that if I drive with courtesy I can help people smile and know they are important thorugh how I treat them. The second response leads to positive thinking and emotions. I have chosen my thoughts and actions and not reacted from anger. In both responses, I choose how I respond or react to the other person's action. Because I choose my response, I am responsible for my choice and behaviour.

This ability to choose is empowering. For a victim to move from being trapped by other people to being able to make a choice about how they think, feel and respond is empowering. They are no longer helpless victims but empowered individuals.

The fourth point looks at the reason we are choosing to make a decision. Dr Marshall looks at four different motivations for making a decision. He calls them levels of behaviour. For example, our faith may be based on fear of God. I do the right thing so I do not go to hell. This would be level "C" as my behaviour is based on reward and punishment. For Moses, for example, he desired a relationship with God above all things, so his choices were based on Level "D" thinking.

The final point looks at the idea of victimhood. When we think as a victim, we are no longer responsible for our choices or actions in our mind. When we think "He made me do it" and other thoughts that blame others, we feel we have no control. When we are pessimistic we perceive we do not have control. When we perceive we are in full control of our thoughts, speech and action we feel psychologically healthy. In this space we feel optimistic and our brain generates healthy chemicals that give us a feeling of well being. (The opposite is also true)

There are three terms that are closely linked together. These are choice, control and responsibility. If we choose then we have more control. The more responsibility we feel the more we show control. Victims are often angry and cannot be happy and are quick to display antisocial behaviour. Disruptive behaviour is seen as a "condition" and we can easily excuse socially irresponsible behaviour, thus keeping them in this unhealthy cycle of behaviour. We need to teach all young people that they have freedom to choose and are accountable for their choices.

Self talk is one of the most important thing to teach people. Healthy people are able to think in a way that is enabling and self empowering. there are three examples of self talk:-

  1. They no longer use the phrases "he made me", and "caused me", but say "this prompts me" and " this stimulates me". Someone else did not cause my behaviour but they can clearly articulate the effect a stimulus has had on them.

  2. When I have worked with students I teach them to say " I feel ......... but I choose to ........", or "I felt ...... when you ......." . This changes the perspective so the student owns the felling and makes a conscious choice what to do when they feel this emotion.

  3. When learning, instead of saying "this is too hard", they can say "this is challenging and I will work hard to understand it!"

  4. When we use self talk to do something, the language we use is important. I do not "try" to do something, but "I will" do this task.

When we treat other people as victims, helpless or inadequate we do not show love. No matter what happens to them, we have faith in them and treat them is such a way that they are encouraged and empowered to make good choices and handle their situation with maturity.

When watching a video from "Awaken with JP" I found the way he talks about being a victim quite insightful... Hope you enjoy it!

To finish, I want to go back to the first verse.

Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. Exodus 33:15

Moses has been given the green light to head into the Promise Land. After all the wandering and stress, I am sure this is what Moses was thinking about daily. If I was Moses, I could not wait to get to the Promise Land! God said He was giving Moses to go forward into the blessing but with a catch. God was not going with them but would send an angel to accompany them. This is a choice we face daily. The question we need to ask is "Do we follow Christ for the blessings or the relationship?" What would you have chosen if you were Moses?

Moses was very clear. He was fixed on his relationship with God being most important. The blessings meant nothing if God was not present as well. In Verse 13 Moses says, "Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight." Not only did he stay in the desert with God's presence, he asked for and received a taste of the glory of God. This would have been life changing and allowed Moses to continue to choose relationship over blessings.

And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”Joshua 24:15.

Joshua was also one that made a clear choice to serve the Lord. Moses and Joshua are both excellent examples to follow. Seek God in how to move from "victim thinking" to becoming empowered to speak, think and act because it is the right thing to do and no longer based on fear or reward. Write down your "self talk" and challenge yourself to change any self talk that is unhealthy. Live a life that demonstrates self control, positive choices and most importantly, a life that has a relationship with God as central to all thoughts and actions.

Bible verses to meditate on:-

  1. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2.

  2. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

  3. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things arenoble, whatever things arejust, whatever things are pure, whatever things arelovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8

  4. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. Colossians 3:2.


  1. New King James Bible

  2. Discipline Without Stress, Punishments or Rewards, Dr Marvin Marshall (Second Edition Revised)

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