As I have helped people who struggle with Anxiety I recognise a “What If?” problem they face repeatedly. They become anxious about what could go wrong.
Their mind serves them up a range of unhappy possibilities which make them anxious.
A friend told me of a recent anxiety attack when they had to meet someone who had been travelling. A few hours before the scheduled meeting they were assaulted with a constant stream of anxious thoughts. They worried about getting there on time, and what would happen if they had a flat tyre of other car issue on the way. They worried about the traffic, finding the people at the correct place and so on.
As it turned out there were no issues or problems at all, but my friend was worn out anyway, from worry.
I’m reminded of my wife’s late parents who attended the Wimbledon Tennis Championships many years ago and arranged to meet at a particular large sign some time later. My father-in-law arrived at the sign and stood among the many others who filled the place, regularly scanning to find his wife when she arrived. Close to two hours passed and he had not become anxious. He just waited in the mingling crowd. Finally he decided to scout around and discovered his wife on the opposite side of the same sign, patiently waiting for him to arrive. They had both been there for the same time, but on different sides of the sign. Neither was anxious or distressed, but each patiently waited for the other.
So it is perfectly possible to live without our head full of “What If?” questions.
What if there’s been an accident? What if I never find them again? What if they’ve been taken to Antarctica by international terrorists? What if they’ve been invited into some privilege I’m missing out on?
“What If?” scenarios can run rampant in our mind, invoking our fears, teasing our feelings of rejection, arousing our jealousies, shaming us, stirring our insecurities and so on.
Years ago I coined the word ‘Catastrophising’ to describe the crazy catastrophes people come up with when they are struck by anxiety. They could imagine any one of a million catastrophes that alarmed them and fed their anxious state, all without the slightest foundation.
Anxiety tends to feed on our weak spots. If you are given to fear then you will be anxious about fearful things. If you are given to jealousy and feelings of rejection you will be anxious about being put down, left out or disadvantaged. If you are given to feelings of shame and inferiority you will be anxious about being publicly humiliated or shown up.
So anxiety is a litmus test to reveal where you need God’s grace to work in your life.
I met someone recently who struggled with performance anxiety. They may have had something like a saviour complex, thinking the weight of the outcome rested solely on them. They felt they had to do as well as yesterday, if not better. They had to come up with the best ideas and have the best strategies for the best outcomes. They would be unable to sleep, anxiously thinking things over.
If you have any such anxiety issue, keeping you awake, disturbing your stomach, driving you to perform or to be excessive in protective behaviours, or trying to look good, or whatever, recognise that as a symptom. It reveals an area where the enemy has a firm grip on your life and where Jesus has not yet set you free.
There is complete freedom in Christ, so don’t stay in an anxious state and don’t allow the enemy to have a grip on your life to take away your peace and joy.
Look at the true prospects for your future, rather than the catastrophes you can imagine.
“All things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purposes”. Romans 8:38
“God has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
“The angel of the Lord camps around those who fear God, and delivers them.” Psalm 34:7
“The path of the just is like the shining light, that shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.” Proverbs 4:18
“I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans of peace and not evil. To do you good and give you a wonderful outcome.” Jeremiah 29:11
And rather than considering the terrible things that could happen, stop and praise God for the wonderful things that have already happened and are happening in you right now.
You are washed in the blood of Jesus, forgiven of your sins, adopted as God’s child, born again and made completely new, with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit with you, cared for and protected by God’s angels, heading for heaven, with authority over the devil, freed from sin, given great and precious promises and able to step right into God’s throne room and ask for God’s grace any time you want.
Your life is not a catastrophe, but a miracle unfolding moment by moment. You are not in danger, but the enemy should be afraid of you and your authority in God. You are not a failure or something rejected, but a precious child of God who is given God’s full attention and invited into God’s presence whenever you want to go there.
And God has everything under control, so you are relieved of duty. You can stand down. You don’t have to save yourself, the situation or anyone else. Take a break and rest in the Lord, letting God be in control and bring about the very best outcomes as you put your faith in Him.
And as you learn to do these things may you live the rest of your life free from The “What If?” Problem.