Choosing the right glasses: reflections on Thanksgiving

“What if I brought home 50 dogs and 50 cats?”

“What if everyone in the whole world sneezed at the same time?”

“What if I wore the same clothes every day for a year?”

It’s a game, these “what ifs” she asks. We have fun thinking up answers to her audacious questions. The words “what if” can be full of possibility and imagination. But sometimes, her “what ifs” take a darker turn:

“What if I go and no one talks to me?”

“What if they say no?”

“What if something happens?”

“What if I am the worst one on the team?”

“What if I can’t do it?”

Sounds like me. Sounds like a lot of us. We learn early, I guess.

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“What if” can be a habit, like putting on lenses by which we see the world. These glasses can have us walking around cautiously, anxiously, never stepping out, never taking the risk, or risking fearfully and expecting the worst. “What if” can vaporize joy in a moment, can pull us out of the present and keep us suspended in a future that may or may not ever come to pass.

Yes, the “what if” may in fact come true. I’ve had my fair share of those. But I think it’s true that the fear we feel about a thing is almost always worse than the thing itself.

“What if” can paralyze us. And like a bad habit, it can be terribly hard to escape. We need different lenses.

Thanksgiving is the perfect antidote to “what if.” Being thankful helps us to look at the past, at all the days we used to fear (and yet somehow got through), and to see the gifts those days have become in our present moment. Yes, being thankful is a choice, and not always an easy one. Choosing “what if” is simpler.

Being thankful requires us to stand on the promise that God loves us, that His love is faithful even when the circumstances seem to say otherwise. When we make lists of thankfulness, when we number our gifts, we make stepping stones that stretch back and back and show the way we have been led, through the fire, through the flood, through the darkest valley of the shadow of death.

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Thankfulness can transform the “what if” to “even if.” When we are convinced of God’s faithfulness to us, our fears, not our joys, begin to evaporate.

Here’s what three of the first wise men had to say when threatened with death:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18

Because He is worth it. Yes, we may have to go through the fire. But we can trust Him. We can say “even if,” because knowing Him is worth it. It’s worth it. If you don’t believe that, I challenge you to try me. Try pursing God. Really pursuing Him. Try knowing Him, not in the way you think He should be known, but in the way He comes to you as Himself. Read what He says. Look at what He does. Take note. I’m not saying everything will become rosy. But you’ll find He is there, and He may not look the way you thought He would.

When we start to see by “even if,” the “what if” questions can become hopeful again, full of possibility.

“What if His love is as strong as He says it is?”

“What if I am really free?”

“What if I trust Him to keep His promises?”

Here’s a November challenge: when “what if” starts to churn in your mind, follow it with “even if.” After all, God Himself makes this “even if” promise to us:

“For the mountains may move
and the hills disappear,
but even then my faithful love for you will remain.
My covenant of blessing will never be broken,”
says the LORD, who has mercy on you.

Isaiah 54:10

Can you believe that? Can His faithful love be enough for you? Try Him. Will you stand on your “even if” instead of your “what if”? You can start by making your list of gifts and chronicling His faithfulness to you.

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Even if the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even if the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even if the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The Sovereign LORD is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights.

Habakuk 3:17-19

Thanks to this helpful article for some of the ideas in this post: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-if-the-worst-happens

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