Do you ever hear a voice whisper, “What if . . .?”
What if things don’t turn out the way I hoped?
What if they don’t like me?
What if the test result is bad?
What if our money runs out?
What if we lose x? y? z?
I wonder how many ‘what ifs’ we’ve allowed to tromp through our mind, bash and crash their way through our dreams, keep us tossing and turning all night, stealing every trace of peace . . . only to come to nothing, like a rolling storm that evaporates to reveal the sun.
Some days what ifs simmer under the surface, quietly unsettling our soul. Other times, their voice is booming and powerful, drowning out all other sounds. In our mind’s eye we see the what ifs’ predictions playing out, our emotions surging as if they were already a reality. At their worst, what ifs bind and cripple us, making us unable to function at all.
The crazy thing is, as convincing and real as they may seem, what ifs are merely that—what ifs—figments of our imagination, with no real substance. The only hold they have over our mind and heart is because of the time and attention we give them.
A couple of months back God cut through my time of prayer and reflection with these words: You’re forming a habit of listening to what ifs.
He was right. I was.
What if I fail? What if things don’t go to plan? What if? What if? What if? Unknowingly, I’d been letting my imagination run off on negative tangents, even though I knew they would do me no good. So subtly had the what ifs crept in, I hadn’t noticed them building, bringing heaviness and tension to the way I worked, the tone I used with my family, my mood when I contemplated the days ahead. God had shone His light on these recurring questions, exposing the load of doubts I’d taken on—and I was grateful.
Once the truth was out, His remedy was swift, His instruction clear. Stop it now.
Okay, God. I will. Please show me how to break this pattern.
He planted a new word pairing in my mind—one so minimally different to ‘what if’, the change seemed almost insignificant. Yet, unlike the fear and anxiety ‘what if’ provoked, the new duo pulsed with truth, security and authority.
Even if . . .
Even if things go wrong . . . God will be there. He will be enough. His love will stand firm.
I scribed His words in my journal as He worked this truth into my heart.
Even if plans don’t turn out quite as you’d imagined, even if something terrible happens, even if circumstances turn upside down or you fail at something, My love for you never fails, My presence still offers you rest and I will show you the way through.
In Isaiah 43 God doesn’t shy away from the reality of tough times in our lives. If anything, He hints they are inevitable, the only question being ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. In the face of this hard truth, His accompanying promise gives a firm foundation for hope—when we pass through the waters and walk through the fire, we will not be overcome, for He is with us. We will not drown. We will not be burned. He will bring us through. (Isaiah 43: 1-5a)
And how about Paul’s declaration in Romans 8?
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
Neither angels nor demons,
Neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation
Will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38-39)
Did you notice the first obstacle Paul mentioned? Even death—what we may view as the most devastating ‘what if’—cannot separate us, or those left behind, from God’s powerful presence or His tender love.
We can’t predict what the days ahead will hold. This year full of strange happenings has taught us that. But the one who already sees our future is with us and He will never let us go. When we drag our thoughts away from what ifs and fix our eyes on His loving face, we find a peace and strength that holds us steady—even if the unexpected happens.