The Worst Thing That Can Happen

Our thermometer changes colors when it detects a fever, and it flashed red and beeped its little alarm at us last night.  My daughter hit the couch after school and by dinner the fever had come on strong.

Not too alarming.  Nothing to be afraid about.  Just an unexpected temperature spike at the end of a day when she had felt just fine.

She asks me questions with increasing concern, though.  What if I feel fine in the morning, do I really have to miss school?   Do I have to stay out the whole day?

I assured her that yes, fever tonight means no school tomorrow.  No question about it.

It takes a few questions of my own to root out the cause of her concern.  She’ll miss a quiz that she’ll have to make up  on Monday and that will take away time from something else she really enjoys at school.  Oh, and she’s supposed to get extra recess as a reward for some work  she did over spring break.  Plus her  friends will worry because they have a big project they are all working on together and she doesn’t want to let them down.

It all seems so “big.”  So very vital.  So much to miss out  on.  So much reason to feel pressured and anxious.

But I ask her this:   What’s the worst that  can happen?

It feels like I’ve been asking that a lot lately.  When we chat about scheduling classes for next year and my soon-to-be high schooler feels like she has to make every decision perfectly  or her whole life will be forever stunted, I  ask the question then, too.

What’s the worst that can happen?

It’s not a magic question that solves every problem, but it’s been changing our perspective a bit.  What’s the worst thing that could happen with these high school decisions?

High school goes terribly wrong and it’s all a mess and a nightmare,  so we do something else. We ask God for new direction and we leave that school and make another plan.  We have options and possibilities.  Nobody is stuck here.

So, we calm down.  We breathe a little deeper.  We know the worst thing doesn’t often happen,  but even when it does, God is with us.  He’ll take care of us.  We’ll be okay.

We have hope.

I asked it again last night of a little nine-year-old girl who is stressing out over missing a Friday at school.

What’s the worst thing?  You miss out on some special activities and you have to make up some work on Friday.  That’s disappointing maybe, but it’s something we can handle.

I don’t want to trivialize this in any way.  Mostly, we’re fighting back the enemy of anxiety, of worry, of fretting over every day situations.

Like when I’m waiting on one child to be dismissed from an activity and they are running late. Ten minutes late.  I’m starting to freak out a little bit and I’m catching my breath more than a little bit.

Then I think about what’s true. The worst thing here is that we’re 10 minutes late to the next activity on the night’s agenda.  And a few minutes late to the next thing after that.  And dinner is a bit rushed.

That’s not worth hyperventilating over in a pick-up line.

Even so, I know sometimes the worst thing actually does happen in life, and it’s every bit as hard and heartbreaking as we ever imagined.  I’ve walked through those seasons, too.   I’ve prayed “Anything but this one thing, Lord.  Please don’t let this one thing happen.”

Sometimes God answers prayers with a gentle “no,” and I have heard that “no.”

But I have also felt the sweetness of the Lord in the hardest seasons, His gentleness, His grace, His kindness, and His loving, faithful presence.  “Behold I am with you always,” Jesus promised (Matthew 28:20).

In Morning and Evening, Spurgeon wrote:

Faith’s way is to drop every care on the Lord and then to anticipate good results from the worst calamities.  Like  Gideon’s men, faith does not worry over a broken pitcher—it rejoices that the lamp shines unimpeded.”

Am I the kind of girl who frets over a broken pitcher or who rejoices over the clarity of light?

Maybe right now I’m mostly a girl who reacts to the broken pitcher.  I’m upset about the brokenness, maybe upset about the inconvenience, or the change in the plans.

Maybe I even worry so much about whether the pitcher will break that I’m afraid to be bold, to take risks, to walk in faith.

I ‘m learning, though, to see His Light and to let His Light shine even through broken places:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5 ESV)

 

 

 

Giving up or Hanging on to Hope

Giving up can be a curious thing.  I mostly gave up, but not completely, not all the way.

I was talking myself out of hoping and was preaching to my own heart about being realistic and practical.

But at the same time, I couldn’t stop the impulse to search and check and try just one more time.

Our cat escaped from our house on October 31st.  It’s a mystery how he accomplished this feat.  He had once been a master of slipping out the backdoor, but he was younger then.  Now he is over 16 years old and he’s lost all his speed.

My kids and I talked it all through.  Did anyone leave the door open?  Who was the last person to  see him for sure and certain?  Did anyone glimpse him nosing around the door?

We couldn’t figure it out.  No one saw him near the door.  No one remembered the door being left open.  And, we reminded ourselves, he is old and slow.

So, I searched inside and outside for our cat.

I fretted and worried, waking in the night to flick on porch lights and see if he’s returned.  But my inside searches also continued in case he decided at some point  to hide away for a nap and didn’t wake up.   I checked the same closets three and four times and then walked out into the woods behind our house searching for a flash of orange fur.

I worried about not finding him and also worried about my kids finding him if he wasn’t alive.  I worried about what in the world he thought he was doing outside all by himself in the woods somewhere when it’s raining and it’s November and he has almost no teeth left and has a thyroid condition and, by the way, he’s an old cat so what are the chances he’s surviving this?

My kids cried before they went to school in the morning because he didn’t come home in the night.  Then they cried when they get off the bus because he didn’t make it home during the day either.

It was a 48-hour worry fest, the kind that lingers in your stomach so even when you’re not thinking about it, you’re feeling the sickness of it.

Then the phone rang while I was making dinner Friday night.  She was driving down the main road outside of our neighborhood and saw a cat sitting by the side of the road.

She called me,  turned her car around for a better look, and said, “Heather, this is your cat.”

I grabbed my keys.  Pulled dinner off the stove.  Told my kids I was heading out to find our cat and left.

Sure enough, there he was–our Oliver,  hanging out by the side of the road.  After a chase through brambles and woods and around a small creek (he apparently didn’t want to be caught), I held my cat, my old man cat with missing teeth and a thyroid condition—the one I thought couldn’t survive and I had almost given up on.

He’s a survivor, though, this fellow.  He’s a fighting, hanging-on kind of cat.

Maybe, too often, I’m not a fighting, hanging-on kind of woman of faith.

I can so easily get talked out of hoping, too easily convinced that what’s unlikely is actually impossible.

I’m more likely to make exit strategies than to throw down an anchor of hope in the middle of any shaky situation.

But as I ugly cry in my car that night after seeing my cat safely at home again, I feel the clear reminder:

God decides what is impossible or possible.

I read that phrase in my Bible Study Fellowship lesson earlier this year and it’s stuck with me.

Who am I to survey a situation and decide that giving up is the best plan?  That it’s a hopeless mess and too far gone for God to redeem, restore, revive, refresh,  renew or resurrect?

I read this in Isaiah and I linger over the vivid picture of how He brings life in the most unlikely places:

The wilderness and the dry land will be glad;
the desert will rejoice and blossom like a wildflower.
 It will blossom abundantly
and will also rejoice with joy and singing. (Isaiah 35:1-2 CSB). 

A dessert full of wildflowers, blooming with grand and unexpected abundance–that is God’s intention, that’s part of His promise for ultimate redemption.

And He can do this.  He will do this.

In the meantime, for those of us who fear and tremble with all the uncertainty of life in the here-and-now, Isaiah also says this:

Strengthen the weak hands,
steady the shaking knees!
Say to the cowardly:
Be strong; do not fear! (Isaiah 35:3-4 CSB). 

Take heart because God can do impossible things.

I was tempted to fret

psalm 37-3

I trekked across the parking lot at Epcot in the mid-day August heat with my two-year-old in tow.

Why were we attempting this feat?

Because my son uses Caprisun juice pouches like most kids use pacifiers or a security blanket.  When he is tired, overwhelmed, scared, or maybe even bored, he asks for a juice.

Normally, this is no crisis.  But that day was the final stretch of a six-day marathon at DIsney.

He was tired.

He was a bit overwhelmed.

He was a teeny bit bored because, while Epcot was awesome, he was too small to ride some of the attractions.

That meant he was cruising through our Caprisun supply faster than I anticipated and I was running out.

No fear, though!  I had more in the minivan.  Hence, my mid-day jaunt out to the parking lot.

We finally arrived, a hot, sweaty mess.  I unlocked the van, plopped him on a seat and enjoyed a few seconds of air-conditioning while I pulled Caprisuns out of the cooler.

He promptly hopped into the front seat and pretended to drive.

Then, we walked back to the park and had a grand old time with our refilled Caprisun supply and a happy two-year-old.

But that’s when I began to fret.

Normally, any time my son climbs into the front seat of the minivan, he immediately turns on the lights.  He has an auto-reflex with buttons.

See button.  Push button.

So, we’re touring around Epcot and I’m wondering, “Did my son turn on the van lights?  If he did, did I turn them off?  Will the van battery be dead by the end of the day?  Will we be stranded at Disney in the August heat?  Will we be abandoned forever in an Epcot parking lot?”

My fretting began as a fairly reasonable question and quickly escalated to worries beyond proportion.

I had to get control.

After all, I’ve never been to Disney before.  This was my big chance to enjoy the day with my family.

I could spend it relishing the moment.

Or I could spend it fretting over a hypothetical future.

It was my choice.

I considered the worst case scenario: He turned on the lights and I didn’t turn them off.  The van battery is drained.  We ask the Disney car-rescue people to jumpstart our van.

Would it be miserable?

Probably.

Would I survive?

Well, yeah.

So, could I let it go?

Yes, I could.

At the end of the day, we found the minivan with its lights off.  No crisis at all.

Had I spent the day worrying, I’d have wasted every joy-filled moment on a hypothetical that never happened.

The truth is, we have plenty of opportunities to fret in life and most of them are for naught.

We often worry over a future we’ll never face and circumstances we won’t even endure.

I certainly had a week full of chances to choose to fret or choose to trust.

Our cat became extremely ill just as we left for Disney.  An odd warning light flicked on in our minivan just as we pulled into the first Disney parking lot. My husband’s car sat at a repair shop back home waiting for the mechanic’s verdict about brakes.

Fret, fret, fret.  I could have done it all week long.

But God cared for us: Cars without the problems we expected, a cat who was better cared for than we could have even cared for him ourselves.

All those opportunities to worry became opportunities to trust Him and find the blessing of His grace and abundance.

During the week, I read Psalm 37 once again:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.

David was tempted to fret also, in his case over evildoers who seemed to get ahead.

But, like me, he had to discipline his vision.

Where was he looking?  At circumstances?  Hypothetical tragedies?  At others?

No, he recaptured an eternal perspective.  What truly matters in the light of heaven? (verse 2).

He focused on God:  trusting Him, delighting in Him, and committing his ways to the Lord.

And then he chose to “do good.”  He didn’t remain paralyzed by the fear and the fretting; he took one right and true step forward at a time and kept on moving closer to God.

We can do the same.

Recapture a vision of heaven.

Fix our eyes on Jesus.

Take the next good step and trust Him with everything else.

And Then What Happened? Part II

“Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their hearts.  You will listen carefully”
Psalm 10:17

You can read “And Then What Happened? – Part I” here

Part II: Fretting Is Not the Same as Praying

I have some things in my life even now that I find myself pleading with God about.  Some suspense-filled situations, some impossible dreams that I’d like to see God miraculously fulfill, some questions about what will happen next.  Is everything going to work out the way I desire?  Will God take care of this need?  What is it that God has planned for me?

The suspense is killing my suspense-hating heart.

So, my prayers begin to take on some urgency.   More than that, when I pray, my words sound more like a child begging for candy in the checkout line rather than the trusting requests of a content child.  “Please, please, pleeeeeeeease, may I have this?  Please will You answer this request the way I would like?  It would all be so perfect if You would work out all these details so this could happen.”

What I am asking for is not as selfish as a chocolate bar or as petty as a $2 Princess camera that does little more than click when you press a button—the novelty items that my children find oh-so-tempting.  I’m asking out of need and out of a weighty burden for someone else.  It’s not what I’m requesting that’s the problem; it’s how I’m asking.

Then, changing my praying attire from pig-tailed toddler to business-suit lawyer, I present my case to God.  “This is the evidence showing why the verdict should go my way.  I have exhibits A, B and C to back me up here. Please decide in my favor.”

As a backlash to my heart’s desires, my rational side gets involved in this debate.  Attempting to protect myself from disappointment, I say to my heart, “These situations are impossible.  Period.  End of Story.  There is no way that things will work out the way you desire.  The circumstantial evidence against you is just too overwhelming.  You’ll just have to settle for less.”

I accept those highly logical arguments for a time, but knowing that God can do anything, even the impossible, I fall down to my knees, squint my eyes, clasp my hands together and go back to pleading.  “Oh, please, please, please, please . . . ”

Years ago, I found myself “praying” this way most of the night every night.  Begging and arguing and explaining to God.  I talked and talked and talked some more to Him.  When I’d said everything I had to say, I just said it all over again.

Was this truly prayer?  Or was it instead simply fretting in front of God’s throne?

It’s not that God requires us to pretend we’re all right even when we’re not, to hide our disappointment or anger or fear and act like faith-filled super-Christians.  David and Job and Habakkuk all poured out ugly truth in their conversations with Him.  Psalm 51:6 tells us, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts” (NKJV).  With God, we can always be honest.   He knows what’s hidden in the dark corners of our heart anyway.  Telling Him how we feel, however, invites Him to do something about it, to speak truth back to our hearts.

I wasn’t just being honest with God, though,  I was begging and pleading.  I was doing all the talking.  As Chris Tiegreen writes, “Don’t confuse pleading with God and believing God.  Both are appropriate, but only one qualifies as faith.

Instead of having faith that God heard my request, that He would work on my behalf, always working things out for my good and for my benefit, that He was not only able to do the impossible, but He was also willing, even desirous, to bless me and shower me with affection—instead of praying with that faith, I was pacing back and forth at His feet, more focused on my request than on my Answer.

That explains why Philippians 4:16 wasn’t working out for me: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”  I was making prayer and supplication, I was letting my requests be made known to God, but I prayed out of anxiety and worry rather than with gratitude and worship.  Chris Tiegreen also wrote, “Faith allows us to rest,” and this certainly wasn’t resting.

I had justified my pleading, telling God I was willing to be the persistent widow, presenting my case to the Judge day after day after day until He granted my request.  Yet, somehow persistence for me had become inextricably linked with a lack of faith.

So, I followed a suggestion and created a penny cup.

Needing a physical way to move prayers out of my heart and into God’s hands and then leave them there, I placed an empty mug on my desk.  Every time I found a penny (which happens more often than you might realize!), I placed the penny in the cup and prayed for that one specific request.  I didn’t spend hours repeating my petition every night.  I really only prayed about it when I moved the penny out of my hand and into the pile of other coins.  And I was persistent.  My pile of copper grew as I laid my request at His feet time after time.  Yet, I didn’t pick any of those pennies back up.  I left them there.  I didn’t linger, arguing, explaining or pleading.  I said a simple prayer, “God, please work the miracles necessary in this situation.  I need Your help.  Thank You that You work on my behalf.  Amen.”   Clink went the penny into the cup.  Away I walked, trusting that God could take care of my need.

Somehow, even though what’s going to happen is still unseen, even though the circumstances I’m in still remain unresolved, I feel less plagued by suspense.  Instead, I feel reassured.  I will likely continue to groan at to-be-continued television episodes and I will surely still flip to the back of the book to see how it ends before reading the first page.  I hate cliffhangers and suspense and dramatic tension as much as ever.

About our Christian walk, however, Paul wrote, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him” (Colossians 2:6).  He tells us what will happen next.  It ends the suspense and resolves all cliffhangers.  We will keep living our lives in Christ today, tomorrow, and the day after that.  All of the specifics may be unclear, but the bottom line remains the same.  We live in Emmanuel, God With Us.  And when I pray in faith rather than begging and pleading, I remember that the God who is with me will take care of it.  He’ll walk me through.   It may or may not be what I’ve desired or planned, but it will always be in His capable, trustworthy, compassionate hands.  “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:25-26).

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King