I found myself growing fearful. Not a heart-stopping all-encompassing fear, but the kind of constant gnawing that creeps into your bones when you hear bad news or see something going awry. When you extrapolate the discouraging trends of the present into the future and assume things will never change. When you think about where you’re headed, and feel your stomach tighten.
Questions lingered in the back of my mind. What if I continue on this path? What if nothing ever gets better? What if the worst happens?
What if. I’ve spent a lifetime considering the “what if’s.” Those questions have a way of destroying my peace, leaving me feeling hopeless. When negative possibilities loom before me, I can’t seem to rein my thoughts in. Just asking “what if” unsettles me.
People in the Bible were unsettled by “what if” questions too. When he was told to lead the Israelites, Moses asked God, “What if they don’t believe me?” Abraham’s servant asked about Isaac’s future wife, “What if the young woman refuses to come with me?” Joseph’s brothers asked, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us?” All of them wondered what was going to happen if things didn’t turn out the way they planned. Just like we do.
We all face a staggering array of “what ifs?” Some are minor inconveniences while others have life-altering repercussions. What if I lose my job? What if I never have children? What if I get cancer? What if my spouse dies? What if my husband never loves me? What if my child never believes in Jesus?
The uncomfortable truth is, any of those things could happen. No one is free from tragedy or pain. There are no guarantees of an easy life. For any of us. Ever.
I was considering this sobering reality on my silent retreat a few weeks ago. Over the course of several days, I had brought numerous longings and requests before the Lord. I wanted these fulfilled. When would God do it? As I penned my thoughts, I felt that familiar fear gripping me.
The question echoed in my mind: What if my deepest longings are never met and my nightmares come true? I didn’t even want to entertain that possibility.
As I sat in the empty chapel poring over my Bible, I sensed God asking the same question I have wrestled with for decades. “Am I enough? Even if those frightening things happen, am I sufficient?” Each time that question had come up in the past, I’d pushed it out of my mind. But in the stillness of the chapel, kneeling in front of the cross, I knew I needed to face this. I sensed God whispering again, “Vaneetha, am I enough?”
“If none of your dreams come true, am I enough? If your health spirals downward and you end up in an institution, am I enough? If your children rebel and never walk closely with me, am I enough? If you never remarry and never feel loved by a man again, am I enough? If your ministry doesn’t flourish and you never see fruit from it, am I enough? If your suffering continues and you don’t see purpose in it, am I enough?
I wish I could have automatically responded, “Yes Lord, you are enough.” But I struggled. Profoundly. The weight of those questions felt crushing. I didn’t want to give up my dreams, surrender those things that were dear to me, relinquish what I felt entitled to.
I reflected on the past few days – much of it centered on the things I wanted. My unwritten contract with God (that He never signed) where I promise to do my part if He fulfills my longings. I reluctantly admitted that part of my desire to be faithful was rooted in my expectation of a payback. Didn’t God owe me something? But what if I didn’t get it? What if my dreams were all left undone?
I knew I needed to relinquish my desires, but I was incapable of doing it myself. I begged God for help. To release my expectations. To let go of my dreams and embrace His. To not predicate my obedience on His gifts.
I sobbed as I opened my hands, filled with my dreams, and placed them on the altar. I didn’t want to love God for what He could do for me. I wanted to love God for who He was. To worship Him because He was God and not because I expected something in return.
God’s presence overwhelmed me as I knelt in the semi-darkness. I was reminded that we have something far better than a reassurance that our dreaded “what if’s” won’t happen. We have the assurance that even if they do happen, God will be there in the midst of them. He will carry us. He will comfort us. He will tenderly care for us. God doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life. But He does promise that He will be there in the midst of our sorrows.
Kutless’ song Even If speaks to this important truth which is echoed throughout the Bible. The chorus says,
Even if the healing doesn’t come And life falls apart And dreams are still undone You are God You are good Forever faithful One Even if the healing Even if the healing doesn’t come
In the book of Daniel, Daniel’s three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not guaranteed deliverance. And just before Nebuchadnezzar delivered them to the fire, they offered some of the most courageous words ever spoken. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…But even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods...”
Even if. Even if the worst happens, God’s grace is sufficient. Those three young men faced the fire without fear because they knew that no matter the outcome, it would be the best for them, the best for their nation, and the best for God’s glory.
They did not ask “what if” the worst happened. They were satisfied knowing that “even if” the worst happened, God would take care of them.
At the end of Habakkuk, we see another beautiful picture of “even if.” Habakkuk wants deliverance for his people and pleads with God to save them. But he closes the book saying:
“Even if the fig tree does not bloom and the vines have no grapes, even if the olive tree fails to produce and the fields yield no food, even if the sheep pen is empty and the stalls have no cattle—
Even then, I will be happy with the Lord. I will truly find joy in God, who saves me. The Lord Almighty is my strength. He makes my feet like those of a deer. He makes me walk on the mountains.”(GW)
Even if. Those two simple words can take the fear out of life. Replacing “what if” with “even if” is one of the most liberating exchanges we can ever make. We trade our irrational fears of an uncertain future for the loving assurance of an unchanging God. We see that even if the very worst happens, God will carry us. He will still be good. And He will never leave us.
Christa Wells’s song, Even Though, illustrates this beautiful principle as well. She says “Even though we lose it all, we’ll not be lost, we’ll not be shaken. Behold, this love of God has ransomed us, He’s ransomed us. Even though.”
God’s love has ransomed us. We have nothing to fear. Even if everything falls apart, we will never walk alone.