I’ve always thought it was wrong to focus on the “what if’s” in life. It seems like a recipe for anxiety to imagine all that could go wrong, all that could be hiding in the darkness of “what if.” We could spend a lot of unnecessary energy trying to manage the “what if” scenarios.
But I’ve found that if I just try to ignore the “what if’s,” they don’t go away. They linger in my mind as nebulous possibilities with the power to hold back my hand from being brave. They hide in the darkness just out of sight, allowing the potential threat to grow. I’ve been discovering that there’s a lot of power to demolish lies and face the fears that grip us when we let ourselves get curious about the “what if” questions.
It started for me like this: One night this spring, as I was wrestling with my fear of failure (one of my go-to fears), I felt like God prompted me to ask, “What if you do fail?”
Which, honestly, felt like kind of a mean question. God, you’re supposed to tell me I won’t fail. You’re supposed to tell me everything will be fine.
But the truth is, it might not be. I will acknowledge that failure is a possibility, as much as I would like it not to be.
So I asked the question, “What if I fail? What’s the worst that could happen?”
If I fail, people might see. They might be disappointed. They might turn away. I might feel like an idiot (oh please, anything but that. Seriously).
“OK, well, what if they do see? What if they are disappointed? Will they really think differently of you? Probably not. They’ll probably be glad to see that you’re human. Does that define your value? No, it does not. Are you still loved? Oh yes, so very, very much. And not just by God, but most likely by those same people who have seen you fail.”
Asking myself these worst case scenario questions was not an attempt to build up my defenses to protect from the pain of experiencing them. Instead, it helped me see where I am trying to rest in others for life and love. As I overlaid God’s grace and truth on it, I realize I would survive a “what if.” Would it be painful? Maybe. Probably. But would he walk with me through it? Yes. And I have hope that I would come out better on the other side. More human. Less self-protective. Braver. More restful.So much energy in life is expended in avoiding the “what ifs.” We try to ward off the evil, the painful, the uncomfortable, instead of trusting that a) God will walk with us through it and b) however hard it is, God can redeem.
Since then, I’ve been making a more regular practice of facing the “what ifs” head on. Confronting them is like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz and finding he’s not nearly as imposing as he’s making himself out to be. In fact, he might even be able to teach me something about what it is I want, what I fear, and how to look to God for provision and protection instead of to myself.
So ask the “what ifs.” What if I fail? What if I don’t get this job? What if things don’t turn out the way I hope? What if this situation never changes? What if my needs aren’t met? What if I don’t know what to do? What if I make a mistake? What if people see it happen?
Ask them not to guard from what could happen (or isn’t happening), but to remind yourself that whatever comes, he’s going to walk with you through it. He will help you see what is true about him, you, and others. Each time we do, we gain more courage to step with faith into the unknown.