The year after I graduated college, I was face-to-face with the fact that my reality didn’t match how I’d imagined my life turning out. I thought I would meet my husband in college, probably graduating with a ring on my finger. At the very least, I would be dating someone by now.
Instead, I was single.
It surprised me how differently things had turned out.
It was in those days of surprise that I felt the Lord whisper to my heart that I could trust him with what I wanted. I could ask for the things I hoped for.
It felt strange to realize that, despite all my hopes and expectations to be married and have a family someday, I had never once brought these dreams to the Lord.
As I went to pray for those things, fears seemed to instantly seize my heart as I thought about voicing my desires. What if I never married? What if the Lord said no? What if I didn’t get anything I deeply wanted?
Those fears were loud, but instead of the Lord asking me to put those fears aside, he asked me to name them.
One by one. Call them out. Pull them from the shadows. Say their names.
So, I began.
With Habakkuk 3 as my model, I asked myself again and again about the worst that could happen, and then, if I could trust Jesus with that “what if” scenario and rejoice in my Savior.
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18, NIV)
What if I never got to wear a wedding dress?
What if I had to figure out cars and finances and taxes by myself for the rest of life?
What if I never got to have children?
What if I only was ever in other people’s weddings and never my own?
What if I never got to have sex?
What if I spent my future alone?
The list went on and on and on.
This was a choice. My choice. Would I trust him? Would I judge Jesus by the circumstances that I didn’t fully understand or judge the circumstances in light of the character of God?
As I named these fears, they started to be a little less scary. As I called each fear by name and pictured the Lord facing them with me, they seemed to lose their power. In all my fearful imagining, I never thought of Jesus’ involvement when I thought of facing those fears. Fear can’t stand up against the grace of Jesus facing my reality with me, no matter the “what if” scenario I could imagine. By no means did my fears suddenly transform into things that I desired, but they also didn’t feel quite so awful .
Jesus reminded me then, and reminds me still, that I only fully trust him when I am willing to admit my fears and ask for his presence in the midst of them.
Whether it makes sense or not.
Whether I understand or not.
Whether my feelings match my trust or not.
This practice of trust isn’t a one-time thing for me. Since that post-graduation year, I’ve written these lists again and again. The specifics change. I’ve since gotten married and had a daughter. But even in the midst of hopes coming to fruition, the fears feel the same and the choice is still mine. Will I trust Jesus with what I’m afraid of and invite him into that place?
I’ve found that the key to these lists is to be as honest and specific as possible. My heart isn’t fooled when I’m glazing over things with a blanket prayer or a cliche. This only works when I’m willing to sit still long enough to listen to my own heart and name what matters to me. I’ve had silly fears and serious fears, but they matter. They need to be named. And if I’m serious about trusting Jesus, he has to be invited into these fears; all of them, again and again and again.
What if I get married and one of us comes to regret it?
What if I keep crying every day for months?
What if I never get to return to a job I love if I leave this one?
What if I have to miss major life events with people who are my family?
What if moving away makes people feel abandoned?
What if I gain weight and can’t lose it?
What if I am not capable of being a good parent?
What if my child dies?
I wish I could say that these lists are some sort of magic formula for trusting the Lord, fixing my fears and preventing my worst-case scenarios. But it doesn’t work that way. Some of my worst fears have ended up happening. In fact, one of my current ones is happening next week. Some of my deepest desires and hopes have been granted to me. And there are plenty of in-progress things that I don’t know about yet.
As much as I think I want a formula, there is grace in trusting my story to Jesus. There is grace that comes with Jesus’ presence, even if the worst should happen. There is grace in the ways he cares for me in the midst of both my hopes and fears. Jesus’ presence changes my worst-case scenarios. Having Jesus beside me changes my deepest darkest fears.
Jesus sends people to help me in ways I don’t deserve, packing my boxes, making my family meals and showing up to dry my tears. Jesus comforts me beyond what I could imagine through baby arms around my neck, my husband holding me tight, a sermon cut to fit for me in that moment, and his voice speaking straight to my heart. I am loved. I am his.
When I am honest about what I want and name the fears that lurk in the shadows, my heart tends to expect an ambush. But instead, I find Jesus himself. I find him facing my daily life with me, whether I get what I hoped for or my worst-case scenario comes true.
When I choose to trust Jesus with my story, I am opening the door to his presence and the grace he brings. I’m so grateful to join with Habakkuk in celebrating who the Lord is, regardless of what is happening, because Jesus goes with me into it all.
There is no“What if” that can stand against that.