Bend in the path of a topiary maze at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Facing the unknown with what you know for sure

Do you ever have those “what if” moments? Those moments in life when you step back and look at a situation and ask yourself “What if this happens” or “What if that happens”? What if something good happens? What if something bad happens? What would I do?

Preparing for the future is always a good idea, I say. Knowing your limits is also good. Knowing the resources you have, knowing the people you can trust are also both good things to know. But what happens when those “what if” questions take over your life? What happens when you can’t do anything without asking “what if”? Granted, you should always consider the consequences before you act. That’s only wise. But considering consequences and asking what if questions are two completely different things.

Like crossing a bridge. If you cross a foot bridge across a river, considering the consequences would involve asking yourself what’s on the other side, how you need to prepare for it, what you need to bring with you. Asking yourself “what if” before leaving would be asking yourself if the bridge will hold your weight. Considering the consequences of your actions means you care about the people around you, that you care about your future, that you aren’t just acting blindly and forging ahead without any sort of map. Asking “what if” means you’re afraid of the future.

Bend in the path of a topiary maze at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Bend in the path of a topiary maze at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Isaiah 46:10.

Only I can tell you the future
    before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
    for I do whatever I wish.

Our futures are mostly unknown. And don’t get me wrong. I like time travel movies and books as much as any other geek. In fact, I’ve written novels about time travel, and in some vein it’s an alluring concept to be able to change it or to be able to anticipate what’s coming. But it’s called science fiction for a reason. God Himself says through Isaiah the prophet here that only He can tell us the future before it happens.

God has revealed what we need to know about the future. And for the blank spots, we have His character as a witness to what He will do.

Life is full of unknowns, and all of those uncertainties can weigh us down if we let them. And I’ve recently been struggling with that dreaded “what if” question quite a bit because there are a lot of unknowns in my life right now. True, there are a lot of things I know for sure, and I’m thankful for those. But the things I’m not sure about are always floating around my brain, screaming loudly and trying to distract from the things I know for sure.

Part of being a writer is the ability to connect dots between details, and most of the time it’s a blessing because I can make a story out of anything. But for the rest of life it’s a headache because my brain is constantly putting pieces together for things that may not happen in my life, for good or for bad.

So how do you handle the “what if” moments? How do you answer them? This week, I think I’m going to focus on that because I’m facing some big “what ifs.” What if I fail? What if I succeed? What if it’s not that easy? What if it was easy and I made it too complicated? What if this? What if that? What if, what if, what if. It’s enough to make me just wish my brain would shut off.

There’s a song by a blind singer named Ginny Owens that I love, called “Live Once.” And there’s a line in that song that I always think about when I’m facing those petrifying what if moments.

I can face what I don’t know
By singing about what I do

And that’s really what it comes down to. Life is full of unknowns, but we can face the unknowns using what we know for sure as our weapon. I may not know what the next stretch of road in my journey will hold for me, but I do know that God set it out before me. And if God set me on this road, He wouldn’t send me for no reason and He wouldn’t send me alone. Because I may not know what’s at the end of it, but I know He sent me. And that really tells me all I need to know about it because I know Him.

The eventual end is happy because God has promised it will be. He can tell us the future if He wants to, and He’s told us what He wants us to know. The rest of the time, He does what He wants. And that’s great. Because good people do good things, and God is always good.

So when you face that decision or that bend in the road, don’t focus on the uncertainties ahead. Focus on what you know for sure. When that voice comes along in your brain and asks you “What if?” … Answer “So what?” If God has sent you, He has a plan, and His plan is better than yours anyway, even if it may not feel like it right now.

What if I fail? So what? God just has another opportunity in mind. What if I succeed? So what? God will give me the strength I need. You can answer those questions because you know who God is. You can face those uncertainties because what you know for sure won’t change.

What if questions

What if God had chosen a different way to save the world? Or what if He had decided we weren’t worth saving at all? What if keeping the Law were the only way to get to heaven? The world would be a different place.

There’s a book by a writer named Bill Myers that I really enjoy. The book is called Eli, and if you haven’t read it, you should. It’s a quick read. And basically, it looks at what the world would be like if Jesus didn’t come until the 20th century. It looks at how modern culture would have reacted to Him. 

Imagine. I mean, really imagine what the world would be like if Christ hadn’t come when He did. Think of the state we would be in now.

For one thing, I wouldn’t be a Christian. No one in the United States would be. No one in England would be. No one in Europe or Africa would be. And no one in most of Asia. Because one of the biggest things that changed when Jesus came was that salvation was offered freely to non-Jewish people.

If Jesus hadn’t come, we would all still be held accountable under the Law, which no one can live up to. If Jesus hadn’t come, we would still have to live by the rules laid out in Leviticus. We would have to offer sacrifices. We would have to dot every i and cross every t.

But that’s not the way God decided to do it. And, of course, God in His eccentricity made salvation happen in the strangest way possible.

The passage for today is Luke 1:26-28.

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Can you imagine what this must have been like for this poor girl? I’ve never seen an angel so I can’t compare, but I’m sure it must have been terrifying.

What would have happened if Mary had refused to do what God was asking of her? After all, this was a big deal. And she had to know what people would think. But she didn’t refuse. She accepted the responsibility of it. I don’t think God would have chosen her otherwise.

And I guess at the end of the day, the what if questions don’t really matter. Because speculation on what could have happened doesn’t really benefit anyone, except to be thankful that it didn’t happen that way.

It’s a good thought for a Wednesday, midway through the week. Because there are a lot of what if questions flying around in my life right now. And I can sit and ask them all day long. I can let them take over until the speculation glues me to the ground because I’m so afraid of what might happen that I never take steps to do anything at all.

But all I have to do is think about the story of Jesus’ birth. There are so many bad things that could have happened. I could keep us here all day listing them. But the beautiful part is that God had everything planned already. He knew everything that was going to happen. He had everything figured out. And none of the what if’s applied.

And I don’t know if that’s comforting in your life or not, but it makes a big difference in my life. Because I always feel like I’m on the edge of a cliff and one wrong move from me will send me toppling over the side. So it’s nice to remember that God has a plan and He’s working everything out for my good, even down to the specific details that I have no chance of foreseeing. Because He’s God. And that’s just what He does.

So if you’re paralyzed by what if questions today, stop asking them. They don’t do you any good. Because if God can work out the birth of His Son to a virgin at just the right time and keep them both safe and well cared for around the First century, God can handle whatever stuff is going on in the lives of you and me.