The Inescapable Law of the Trade Off

Life is full of trade-offs. I remember being just out of college when I first listened to a cassette tape of a John Maxwell seminar called 10 Trade-offs Worth Making. While I have forgotten the actual trade-offs he mentioned, the principle itself stayed with me. And while the law of the trade-off is inescapable, we are tempted by at least two subtle deceptions.

First, we can ignore the reality of trade-offs and treat life like an all-you-can-eat buffet. You can have a little taste of everything. You only live once, or #YOLO if we want to be up on the lingo, so live life to the fullest. Of course, it takes a good dose of self-deception to make this way of thinking work. This seems to be the prevalent attitude of the culture. Why can’t we have complete autonomy and absolute security? Why can’t we enjoy the fat of the land and avoid the fat of the body? Why can’t my kid do all the things I never got to do and still enjoy being a kid, learn how to act like an adult, and pursue his or her own dreams? Who are we to say, “No, life doesn’t work like that”?

Second, we can replace the reality of trade-offs with the false law of good intentions. This is probably the more common temptation for us. As parents, we know what it is to make sacrifices for our children. We know what it is to want the best for them, and those sacrifices are a worthwhile trade-off for us. But sacrifice in itself is no virtue. Making great sacrifices for our children is no guarantee of a good trade-off. It is the right sacrifice that matters. Our good intentions do not pass wisdom and blessing on to our children, which is what we are called to do.

Faithfulness to those things which are truly wise and blessed become the inheritance of our children. This is no magic formula. It is the grace of God working in our midst. It’s how He governs the world. And He does so remembering that we are dust.

Learning to discern the most important things and make the right trade-offs will be a blessing to our children and it will teach them how to do the same for their children. In the education and discipleship of our children, we must have a clear vision for what our children are called to grow up into if we are to navigate these waters well. Choices will vary based upon circumstances, opportunities, and any number of other variables.

We cannot be all things to our kids. We cannot teach them all things, provide all the right opportunities, or place them in the perfect environment. What we can do, and are called by God to do as parents, is to seek the Lord’s wisdom and grace to make the right sacrifices, the right trade-offs, during the time that they are under our care. Our good intentions as parents are no substitute for faithful obedience. Life is full of trade-offs. May God grant us the wisdom to discern the ones worth making.


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