After weeks of house-hunting, my clients had finally settled on the new home they wanted. They made an offer on a Thursday and waited for an answer from the seller.
Speaking through her agent, the seller promised an answer by Sunday morning, but by the middle of the day, she still hadn’t accepted or rejected the offer. By Monday, she sent word that she was ready to accept, but then she changed her mind and asked for more money. My clients made a compromise offer and the other agent said the seller had accepted. We waited for a signed contract.
But she didn’t sign. We didn’t receive the contract back.
My clients grew frustrated. After waiting nearly a week while the seller refused to make a decision, they had me send word that their offer would be withdrawn if the seller didn’t sign by 5 p.m. that day. The woman never signed. The offer was withdrawn.
My clients moved on to other houses — and the seller is now stuck with a house that’s been on the market for eight months, so she’s unable to buy another house and move as she wants to. Her refusal to make a decision has left her with no other offers — and no way to achieve what she wanted to achieve.
The entire episode frustrated me, but the more I think about it, the more I think this behavior is common in humans. Every offer comes with an expiration date — even if we’re not sure when that is — but when we face a choice of accepting or rejecting what’s offered to us, we frequently act as though we have forever to decide.
And we often end up losing what we really wanted by waiting too long.
In the last biblical letter that the Apostle Paul wrote, he asked Timothy to come to see him — and he explains that there’s not much time left.
“Do your best to come to me soon,” Paul writes in selected verses at the end of the book we know as Second Timothy. “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. … When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. … Do your best to come before winter.”
This is the last letter Paul wrote. His health is poor as he suffers through solitary confinement in a cold Roman prison and he’s begging Timothy to bring his cloak, as well as books and manuscripts. I can imagine Timothy receiving the letter and delaying the trip, finding a thousand reasons to do other things — thinking he has plenty of time. But eventually it was too late. We assume Timothy never made it before winter arrived — and Paul was beheaded by the Romans.
This is a famous sermon text and the typical lesson drawn is that winter is coming for all of us — because death is inevitable — and we all have choices to make regarding our salvation before death gets here. But I think the metaphor can be far broader.
We are often terrible at decision-making. Most people don’t want to take chances, even if it’s taking a chance to get what they want. So they remain paralyzed — stuck with what they don’t want and refusing to reach out for what they do want.
Years ago, I wrote here about a situation in which I was torn between two women. I knew which one I wanted, but I came up with all sorts of reasons to delay making a decision. I didn’t want to hurt the one who would be rejected. I was afraid that the one I would choose might be the wrong one.
I didn’t make a decision — so I lost both of them.
Something about my clients’ experience with the house last week has left me thinking about this. They’re frustrated that the woman never would sign the contract she verbally agreed to. The woman would have been far better served to have signed, because it would have let her buy another house and move.
But her indecision lost this chance — and I can’t help thinking there’s a lesson here for most of us.
All sorts of things leave us paralyzed and unable to make decisions. We make all sorts of excuses for ourselves, but we let fear turn us into cowards — and as the clock keeps ticking, we lose the chance to have things we know we want and need.
If you’ve been given an offer, you have every right to reject it if you decide it’s not what you want. We all have our reasons for doing the things we do — and not all offers are worth accepting.
But if you’re rejecting something that’s been offered to you, make sure you know what you’re giving up, because you just might want it after it’s too late — and bitterness will be with you for the rest of your life.