Summary: There are sometimes tough choices that we have to make in life.
I can appreciate the frustration Charlie Brown has in the Peanuts cartoons. Like the one where Lucy is philosophizing and Charlie is listening. As usual, Lucy has the floor, delivering one of her lectures.
She says, "Charlie Brown, life is a lot like a deck chair. Some place it so they can see where they’re going. Others place it to see where they’ve been. And some so they can see where they are at the present." Charlie Brown sighs and says, "I can’t even get mine unfolded."
More than a few of us can identify with Charlie Brown. Life gets rough at times. Some of the choices we have to make are difficult. We find ourselves, like the old saying, "between a rock and a hard place". Stuck between two possibilities where an argument could be made for going either way. Such a situation is called a dilemma.
There are different kinds of dilemmas. Some dilemmas are known as volitional dilemmas. That’s where we want to do two things at the same time. Young couples who have been married for two or three years, sometimes less, are often trying to finish their schooling, yet are anxious to start a family. What should they do? To start having children means extra financial pressure and an even greater strain on time and energy. But to wait several years means that they may be in their thirties, and they really want to begin parenting earlier than that. What should they do?
Another volitional dilemma occurs when you’re unhappy in a congregation. The problem is especially difficult if you’ve been a member for many years and all your closest friends are there. Do you stick it out and try to help bring about needed changes, which may not be too promising, or do you state your disagreement and go somewhere else? As some of you know very personally, that can be a difficult choice to make.
Emotional dilemmas are even more intense. This takes place when we have different feelings about the same event. For example, suppose a child has had a pet for many years. The bond between them is inseparable. But the animal has an incurable disease that makes it more and more miserable. You know what the dilemma is. To provide the pet relief means putting it to sleep, but it’s a painful option.
If you think that one is difficult, how about dealing with an adult rebellious son or daughter? He or she has moved out of the house and is living a lifestyle that is disappointing to God and to you. But it’s obvious that financial assistance is needed. In fact, they’ve asked for it. Do you help them or do you turn them down? It’s an emotional dilemma that will tear you up no matter what you decide to do.
Then there are geographical dilemmas that occur when we want to be in two places at the same time. Maybe you love where you’ve been living for years, but moving would mean a raise in salary, not to mention the opportunity to make new friends and enjoy some much-needed changes. But leaving would be difficult because of the kids who are now teenagers, and the longstanding relationships you’ve built up in the church, in your neighborhood and with your friends. You weigh both sides. Neither is ideal, yet both have their benefits.
Whenever we’re faced with a dilemma, we’re pulled in two different directions. We feel the strain and we don’t quite know what’s the best thing to do. And I might add that being older and wiser doesn’t mean that you’re immune to the problem. As Charlie Brown put it, there are times when we can all find it difficult to get our deck chair unfolded.
I. Paul’s Personal Dilemma
All of this brings us to the apostle Paul who was a prisoner of Rome in his own house. If you’re familiar with the book of Philippians, you know that Paul reacted positively to his circumstances and wrote a joyful letter of encouragement to his brethren in Philippi. In fact, the Philippian letter is best summed up in chapter 4, verse 4: "Rejoice in the Lord always,. Again I will say, rejoice!"
But even with such a positive attitude, Paul admitted that he had a dilemma of his own. "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful to you." (Philippians 1:21-24).
There is no doubt that Paul’s dearest friend, in fact his most intimate relationship on earth, was with Jesus Christ. No one else meant more to him; therefore, the thought of being with him brought Paul great joy. His feelings could be summed up in the song we sang a few moments ago: