faith, personal

The Game of What Ifs

Lately, I have not had a chance to clear my head. The stress of moving combined with the noise of the everyday life-work-balance has been overpowering me, and I have not been attuned to God’s voice. I prayed for an opportunity to escape into the silence and God provided it in an unexpected place.

Since I moved to small town USA four years ago, I’m never in the car for very long. In high school and college, when I lived in St. Louis, every place I went was at least a thirty minute drive, and where I am now, I find myself getting annoyed at the Spotify ad-free music incentives because by the time the commercial is over, I’m usually already at my destination.

So I was surprised and joyful the other night to find myself on a long drive back from our neighboring town, following new and unfamiliar  winding roads for about 40 minutes. I was finally in the silence; finally able to think, and hear, and pray.

The roads were county roads–super dark, no house lights or street lights or other cars–just me, the stars, and my headlights. I had no idea where I was, but I knew where I was going: my GPS was leading me home. She said, “Stay on Route W for 6 miles” so onto Route W I dutifully drove. And somewhere between miles 1 and 2, I had this nagging in my heart:

Do I trust my GPS to lead me more than I trust God to?

The logic isn’t necessarily sound, but the concept hit me like a ton of bricks. On the path of my life, I have no more knowledge of what’s up ahead than I did that night on the back roads. And in the clamor and clatter of my days, I don’t hear God’s guiding voice telling me to stay straight or bear right. But even if I did, I’m still not sure that fear wouldn’t keep me from obeying or believing Him.

I’m a huge fan of The Office (US) and there’s a scene where the staff partners up for a blindfolded race. Andy (Ed Helms) guides a blindfolded Kelly (Mindy Kaling) through an obstacle course. Kelly knows there’s a boulder somewhere on the beach and she is frozen in place yelling, “I don’t want to hit the big rock! I know I’m near the big rock! I can feel it!” Andy assures her that she’s not anywhere near the big rock, and in a panoramic shot, the audience can see that Andy is right. He pleads with her to keep her blindfold on and promises she’s no where near the “big rock,” but she gives up and takes off the blindfold anyway.

That’s me when it comes to listening to the plan. Dozens of my journals have some version of this prayer in them:

Lord, I’d like to ask you what you want of me. But I’m afraid the answer will be something I don’t want. So I’m not going to.

What a strangely sad and self-aware prayer. Are we leading lives of comfort and contentment instead of boldness and bravery, because the path ahead may be unexpected? Because I have news for all of us: the path ahead is unexpected anyway. And there’s no where else to go. We have two options–move forward without a guide or move forward with one. But either way, friends, we’re moving forward.

With that in mind, I began to pray about the kind of life I’m being called to lead. Any good journey requires the right type of luggage, and I had a feeling that my baggage was just going to weigh me down. In recent posts I have alluded to some pain I’ve been sorting through, so right then and there, I started to unpack it.

I asked myself what the source of my pain was. For me, the answer was embarrassment. I embarrass so easily. I have vivid and traumatic recollections of being reprimanded in class as a child, my eyes pricking with tears and my cheeks growing firey hot and red as I buried my face in my desk, pretending to look for my pencil sharpener. More than any other emotion, embarrassment is the one I wrestle with. And the easiest way to defeat a demon is to name it.

I’ll spare you all the details of my drive but here’s where I ended up (besides home in my driveway):

I started to think what if.

What if I decide to leave my embarrassment at the foot of the cross?

What if I choose to accept that God calls the shots and my humiliation is fleeting compared to the glory of what else is in motion?

What if I lead a life that is so ingrained in my identity in Christ that human emotions like embarrassment or anger or heartache are irrelevant?

What if I let God lead me to a place where I can love regardless of how I am treated, because love isn’t contingent on anything?

What if I let the Lord drive?

And I kid you not, my heart began to change. In an instant. All God needed was permission to start healing my heart, and He did. And the story gets better.

Like I said earlier, I moved to small town USA in 2013, so to say this next part was a huge surprise would be an understatement. I went to Mass at my regular church, at my regular time, and sat in my regular spot that Sunday. But something irregular caught my eye. My old youth minister, from my St. Louis high school youth group, was sitting just a few pews away. What was he doing in Cape? In my church? At my Mass? How many stars had to align for me to see him!

I haven’t seen Bob since I moved. The last time I saw him was when his second child was born and yet today, here he was, six feet from me with his three beautiful children and pregnant-again wife. I was antsy all through Mass. I wanted to stand up and rush over to say hello and meet his daughter and ask what they were doing here. After a painstaking hour of patience, Mass was over and I just about tripped over myself to get there. When I got there, Bob said, nonchalant as ever, “Hi, Erin. How are you?”

Bob is a person who is not surprised by God. His faith and trust are so deeply rooted that there is nothing our Lord couldn’t or wouldn’t do, so why would any good thing–like seeing an old friend–come as a shock? It wouldn’t. For Bob, this “stars-aligning” moment was just another completely expected gift from a creator that loves us and wants us to be happy. Bob’s life story is full of moments like this–moments where he believed his path would go one direction and when it went a complete other, he said, “Okay,” and turned on his heel to follow. As one of my spiritual role models, what I see in Bob is someone who doesn’t say “What if” but instead says, “When.”

When I decide to leave my embarrassment at the foot of the cross, amazing things will begin to happen.

When I choose to accept that God calls the shots, my life will change.

When I lead a life so ingrained in Christ, then human emotions like embarrassment or anger or heartache will become irrelevant.

When I let God lead me to a place where I can love regardless of how I am treated, then love will no longer be contingent on anything.

When I let the Lord drive, then I will know I am headed home.

Here’s my challenge to you this week–take this question to prayer. What is your “what if”? What would happen if you turned it into a “when”? Now, take the first step to making it happen.

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