By Beth Demme
Is it just me, or does each day hold a million or more what–ifs?
When I’m at my best (emotionally healthy with a properly adjusted perspective), the what-ifs excite me. What if I get invited to speak at such-and-such? What if I hear back from so-and-so? What if today God uses me to plant the seed of something that sprouts tomorrow, or next year, or in five years?
When I’m at my worst (emotionally spent and without perspective), the what–ifs are terrifying. What if one of the kids gets really sick? What if my husband is in a car accident? What if this bump/lump/spot is life-changing?
Sometimes I can feel my heart breaking over the what–ifs.
What if I’ve kissed my husband for the last time?
What if I never get to laugh with my children again?
Recently, I found myself in a spiral of unhealthy what-ifs. (That’s why I was able to list them for you so easily. They are fresh on my mind.)
At intervals I tried praying the fear away, sleeping the fear away, and eating the fear away, but it didn’t relent.
Five pounds later, I returned to a tactic I learned a few years ago – I named my fears in writing. When I looked over my written list of healthy and unhealthy fears, I had an epiphany.
All of the unhealthy what-ifs related to things entirely outside of my control.
My unhealthy what-ifs all related to disease, accident, and mortality. I couldn’t control them, but I was definitely worrying about them.
God knows I worry. Literally, God knows it. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “I tell you not to worry about your life. Can worry make you live longer?” (Matthew 6:25, 27 CEV) A few verses later he bluntly says: “Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today.” (Matthew 6:34)
Yep, I have plenty to worry about. I seem to have an endless supply.
The thing is, I know worry is a secondary emotion. It’s a signal that something else is going on. As I perused my list of what-ifs, the real issue permeated to the top.
Worry was an elaborate sub-conscious cover-up for my fear of failure.
The question at the heart of it all was: “What if I fail?
You’re the only one who knows how that sounds in your own mind, but here’s how it sounded in mine:
What if I’m not a good enough mom?
What if my marriage fails?
What if no one reads what I write … ever?
I realized it was time to use a lawyer tactic and restate the question.
Lawyers do this all the time in depositions and in the courtroom. Why? Because asking the same question in different ways sometimes elicits different answers.
Instead of: What if I try this and it doesn’t work?
Ask: What if I try this and it does work?
Instead of: What if I’m not cut out for this?
Ask: What if God gave me this opportunity for a reason?
Instead of: What if I’m misunderstood or criticized?
Ask: What if I’m understood and it helps someone else?
Re-stating the question led me back to healthy what-ifs and actually reduced the amount of fear I felt. Asking the right what-if adjusted my perspective so I could see the positive potential instead of losing myself in a spiral of negativity.
Are you worrying about something beyond your control today? Do you know the “what-if” at the heart of your worry? Can you restate that “what-if” and lead your perspective in a new direction? I’d love to hear from you. Comment here or find me on Twitter or Facebook.