There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off~ Proverbs 23:18 NIV
It happens to us all. We find ourselves wide-awake at some unholy hour of the night or seized by a sudden panic in the middle of an otherwise great day. Our minds go wild and we are unable to stop agonizing over strange and often-improbable issues. The details of fear-fests vary from person-to-person and situation-to situation but at the center of all of them is one culprit: what-if. The following list is a peek into some of my own (clearly neurotic) what-ifs (please don’t judge).
I die before our kids grow-up?
Someone breaks into the house while we’re sleeping?
My boss/best friend/husband suddenly decides he/she hates me?
My identity is stolen?
I forgot to pay the Visa bill?
I ruin my life with bad choices that SEEM like good choices at the time?
My kids grow-up to be bad people?
I’m disabled or disfigured in a horrible accident?
A snake crawls in the house? (We live in Arizona, it happens)
What-ifs are not always harmless. The anxieties triggered by what-ifs can cause us to lose focus and miss out on the truly beautiful moments in life. What-ifs rob us of peace and distract us from our purpose. The fear and insecurity that what-ifs generate can lure us into attempting to do things our own way, rather than God’s way.
Our way inevitably tempts us to lean on worldly wisdom, as with Sarah in Genesis chapter 16. Sarah’s anxiety over her inability to produce an heir led her to demand that her slave Hagar become a surrogate in order to produce an heir for Abraham. The whole sordid affair was an ugly, tragic disaster from the beginning. And sadly, our world is still reeling from the fallout of that one little piece of worldly wisdom thousands of years after the fact.
What-ifs are not always as entirely evil or illogical as they sometimes seem. If they are managed correctly some what-ifs serve a valuable purpose. What-ifs remind us to control the things we can and should be controlling. The book of Proverbs wisely reminds God’s people that…
The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty~ Proverbs 22:3
Exercising dominion over the daily issues that we should control like locking our doors, maintaining healthy relationships, wise money management, teaching our kids right from wrong, using seatbelts, and shredding junk mail help to prevent future trouble and heartache. Attentiveness in these areas gives us less to worry about in general, and goes a long way in keeping the nighttime fear-fests at bay.
Once we get a handle on the issues we do have a measure of control over, things get a little trickier from a spiritual perspective. Then we have to deal with the issue at the heart of what keeps us up at night: fear. Fear of the future, fear of losing control, fear of the unfamiliar, and—most of all—fear of not having our life and the lives of those we love work out the way we think it ought to.
Disease, job loss, death, fender benders, other folks’ choices, the economy, and rattle snakes in the yard all remind us on a regular basis that control is an illusion in our world. Trusting God when it feels as if we are walking alone through a dark place is easier said than done, but necessary if we wish to grow spiritually and keep our sanity intact.
Trust begins with the fervent conviction that God meant what He said in Romans 8:28:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Only an idiot would say that all things in this world are good. Sin has left its mark on every aspect of creation. Even the redeemed feel the sting of its effects. But that does not mean that God is not or good or that He is asleep at the wheel or winging it when things look bleak. We vanquish the fear that what-ifs produce by reminding ourselves that God is good even in the tough times and He is busy working out things to our advantage.