“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”
Ever been on the short end of a ‘what if’ fest?
I’m sure you have.
It’s stormy. The ‘what ifs’ go something like this:
“What if I can’t get out of the garage? What if the roads are blown in? What if the highway crews haven’t been out yet? What if I hit the ditch on my way to work? What if I’m late?”
You’re on your way to a function.
“What if I don’t know anyone there? What if I can’t find anyone to sit with? What if I’m overdressed? What if I’m underdressed? What if I trip on my way in?”
You plan an event.
“What if no one comes? What if too many come, and I run out of food? What if [person’s name] shows up and things get awkward? What if no one enjoys themselves?”
“What if something happens today that I can’t handle? What if it’s really busy? What if it’s not busy enough? What if I have to deal with something really unusual and I don’t know what to do? What if I’m late? Why if things go wrong? What if –
I know the drill.
Up goes the heart rate. The thoughts swirl, faster and faster. The tension rises in your neck muscles.
Those pesky ‘what if’s’ can really lead us off into scary territory. Consider these wise words of American author Mark Twain:
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Read that again.
See, a huge proportion of these ‘what if’s’ never happen at all. They are anchored in doubt, fear, insecurity, or pessimism.
Which is why it’s so important to wage war, and not let those ‘what if’s’ waltz in and walk all over you.
That’s all very fine, you say. But how?
1. Stop the train before it pulls out of the station with your emotions on board.
Make a conscious decision to abort the ‘what if’ Mission. It takes time and persistence, but you are in charge of your thought patterns. You don’t have to accept a thought just because it’s there. If you have to shake your head and say “No!” out loud, do. It will help you refocus.
2. Choose to think about what is real, true, and positive.
Most ‘what if’s’ are conjecture, not fact. They aren’t happening, so the aren’t in fact real. They are imagination. Make a list in a calm moment of facts or ideas that are pleasant and will help to transfer your attention from the fears at hand to what is actually true. I run through a little list when I am becoming anxious of items that keep me grounded – “I am loved. I am chosen. I have skills and talents and I can make a difference today” is be very helpful to reroute my negative thoughts.
3. Anchor your heart in prayer.
After stopping the direction of your thinking and reminding yourself of some truth, prayer will seal the deal. Tell God about your fears and worries. Be real. Ask Him to remind you of the truths you will need to fight those ‘what if’s’. Ask Him to guard you and your thoughts for the day.
4. Feed yourself healthy mental food.
Dwelling on news reports, disturbing images, unhealthy comparisons to airbrushed and trendy celebrities, or unrealistic standards on social media won’t help you to anchor your thinking on truth. Be careful what diet you are feeding you eyes and soul when the ‘what if’s’ come knocking. Meditating on the gifts and promises of a good God who loves you and wants the best for you is a sure way to develop the inner strength you need to fight this war – and win.
Anxiety doesn’t go away overnight. And once dealt with, it comes back again and again. But if we want the peace God promised, we can learn to train our thinking, and build skills for waging the ‘ what if’ war.
Fight worry more effectively with me?
Father, you want us to win this war which starts in our minds. Help us to recognize and stop the negative thought trains, and replace them with wholesome and healthy thinking. Amen.