I originally wrote this post on St. Patrick’s Day five years ago. I got to thinking about this date today, and I realized it’s a significant date in both history and my own personal history.
On March 17, 1996, my family was wrapping up Spring Break with a trip to the roller skating rink near our house. A neighbor called us as we were getting in the car to head home. He said, “Your house is on fire, and it’s all gone.”
My mother was five months pregnant with her eighth child. We had just started to really feel like life was somewhat normal again (if there is such a thing) after losing my brother five years earlier. I was getting excited about sitting for my driver’s permit. And then everything was scorched or destroyed.
There’s no feeling that quite describes seeing everything you own melted or in ashes. There’s no forgetting that smell. It stays with you for the rest of your life. We all lost treasures that day – pictures, little things that we carried close, my grandmother’s wedding ring (a gift from her to me), my dad’s extensive collection of Indian relics, and a bunch of other stuff. My dad also lost all of his business records.
We were devastated and displaced for months. My mom spent most of the rest of her pregnancy in and out of the hospital.
A feeling that clung to me all those months was loss. I felt like I was different and outcast. I didn’t have many clothes. My little sister cried about having a single toy. You feel lost, but the community brought us back. It wasn’t perfect, but we got back on our feet.
The past few days have felt much like this to me. We are uncertain. We are stressed. We are unsure of what to do right this second. We see people panicking. I felt shamed when I walked into an office to buy propane today, and a lady stuck her hand up for me to not get any closer. I know I’m not alone in this feeling.
We see the ugly coming out on social media – people chastising others about not following the rules to a tee or people sharing panic-driven information.
Everyone has become an expert in the best way to avoid the pandemic. The reality is that we don’t really know the full story. We just know what we’re hearing and seeing in our little slice of the world.
I believe the root of this anxiety and panic is a simple question: “What if?”
And the post I wrote five years ago is still relevant. Here’s what we can do with the “What if?” right now and in the future. It’s a little question that can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. It can also bring people together.
Asking, “what ifs” like “What if we get married? Have a have a child? Buy a house? Start a business? Move to a new town? Go on a trip around the world? Homeschool our kids? Go on a mission trip? Adopt a child? Buy a farm?” can bring extraordinary change to the lives of the people who ask these big questions.
But the other “what ifs” can take us to a really dark place in the blink of an eye. “What if we…Go broke? Lose our house? Lose out on a big opportunity? Make a mistake? Lead our children astray? Trust someone and get hurt? Fail at marriage, work, or life in general?”
These questions can be valid, but are they worthy of our time? Are they worthy of our attention?
The place I look when the creepy little “what ifs” start to cloud my vision is the fruits of the spirit.
Are these questions coming from a place of love? Are they going to bring anyone joy? Am I giving my loved ones the benefit of the doubt? Am I giving my loved ones or my circumstances time to change (forbearance)? Are my questions coming from a place of kindness or selfishness? Are my questions allowing me to see the good in a situation? Am I being faithful in asking these questions? Am I speaking these questions with gentleness? Am I practicing self-control in seeking answers to these big questions?
I’m going to pull the seeds of truth out of these fruits because thinking about them in the context of “what if” brings clarity. I hope this exercise helps you like it helps me. There’s too much fruit to cut through for one post, so I’m going to divide this into three separate posts.
Are my “what ifs” coming from a place of love?
In the love chapter of the Bible, Paul tells us that “love always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.” When we ask our questions from a place of love for our husband or our children or any other loved one, the bad “what ifs” get clouded out when we seek to offer protection, trust, or hope.
I know that when I go to my dear husband and ask him a “What if we don’t have enough?” question, it’s because I’m afraid. It’s an ok question to ask. I’m not saying that we can’t be real and honest with our spouses.
But when we ask the question another way, it can meet the test of love.
What are we going to do to change this situation? What is the truth that is today? What is the truth that is tomorrow? What can we let go of? These questions spark ideas, not doubts. They put us together, not on opposing sides.
I know one of my biggest struggles as a wife is trying not to toe that line that is me versus him. We are one flesh. We only get so many days to do this life right, and if we want to do it together, we have to be on the same side, looking to each other for protection, trust, hope, and perseverance.
Are my “what ifs” going to bring anyone joy?
This happens a little too often at my house, “Why won’t you listen to me?” “Why won’t you stop crying?” “If you would just do it this way, you wouldn’t be so confused, frustrated, etc.?”
These are my will getting in the way of helping the people I love to grow. I don’t always want to take the time to figure out what’s wrong with the man cub. I don’t want to have to stand over the big girl as she tells me she doesn’t know how to clean the living room.
When I start the “why game” with the hubby on a Tuesday morning, we’re in for a rough start. The “why game” is really a disguise for “what if” or insecurity popping its ugly head of out the shower. He gets frustrated because I can be gristly and critical when I’m asking, “what if.” I get frustrated because I feel like he’s not listening to me.
But when I speak from a place of joy, life is a little better. Maybe not easier, but my attitude sets a better tone for the day or the moment. I can’t activate joy unless I seek it out. I have to prepare my mind with prayer and seeking God’s way through His word.
When I neglect this step in my day, the insecurity comes out, ready to feast on my sweet family. It wants to destroy the happiness that graces my children’s faces when they see me for the first time in the morning. It wants to rush through the day’s to-do list with a vigor that has no time for distraction.
My joy is my decision, and I can’t love without it. I’m not capable because my soul needs food just as often as those tiny tummies that follow me around all day asking for a snack.
I hope this glimpse into the realm of “what if” helps you. What do you do with your negative “what if” moments?