A couple of years ago God put me through a peculiar exercise that caused a total earthquake in my long-held perception of trust. I'd like to replay it to you in the form of a dialogue because when it occurred, it was as if God spoke every word concretely and audibly to me.
God saw me in inner turmoil (again) about a relentless relational challenge, and while I was wrestling before Him in prayer, my stomach twisted like a wrung-out wet rag, He interrupted.
Child, tell Me your worst fears.
I was a little taken aback. After all, I was in the throes of a particularly descriptive lament. Still, in my human estimation, He had no doubt spoken, so who was I to ask Him to wait His turn? I did what He requested. I told Him my worst fears. Then He "said" something I never could have anticipated:
Let's say those things happened.
Trust me when I tell you, that is not what I wanted to hear from God. I wanted reassurances like, "I will never let any of those things happen to you." I sensed Him continue the interaction despite my bewilderment and dread.
Beth, picture yourself going through the whole process of one of your worst fears becoming a reality. Get all the way to the other side of it. What do you see there?
So I did. I saw myself getting the news I feared most, bawling my eyes out, grieving a loss, or going through all the emotions of betrayal. The tears stung in my eyes. Butterflies flew to my stomach. My insides turned out. But something odd happened on the other side. I'll use a specific example to illustrate the process:
One of the fears I confessed to God was that, in my older years, Keith would stop loving me and fall for somebody else. Somebody younger. After all, a few of his good friends had done exactly that. It wasn't unreasonable. It's not like it doesn't happen. I pictured my worst-case scenario: not only would Keith find someone new, my daughters would also love and embrace her. Now that would be a nightmare.
Okay, Beth, you did a good job thinking up something terrible. What then?
That's when I figured out what God was after. He and I both knew what I would do. I would be devastated at first. I would probably sin in my anger and say all sorts of things and act all sorts of ways I would live to regret. I would feel inexpressibly lonely and rejected and probably old and ugly. But I knew that finally I'd go facedown before God just as I have a hundred other hard times, accept His grace and mercy, believe Him to take up my cause and work it together for good, and then I would get up and choose to live.
The excruciating emotional exercise was the best thing God ever could have asked from me. He knew I had pictured the devastation and defeat over and over, but I had never gotten any further than that in my imagination. It was as if He said, "As long as you're going to borrow trouble on the future, why don't you just go ahead and borrow the grace to go with it and see yourself back up on your feet defying your enemy's odds... just as you and I have done a dozen other times."
Even now I could clap my hands over it. The devil took a harsh blow that day because I've never fallen back into that old pattern of thinking. And further, the victory over such a long-term mental stronghold caused me to entertain the thought that I could be equally free from my lifelong battle with insecurity. After all, the two are inseparable. These days I far less often pray, "Lord, I trust You to..." I simply try to say over and over again, "Lord, I trust You. Period."
I've always been afraid of losing my most cherished loved ones. When giving way to particularly advanced forms of self-torment, I have even pictured myself at their caskets (morbid, I know, but don't try to tell me you haven't done it). But I never once pictured myself several years later, back on my feet to the glory of God, heart sore and scarred but pouring my life into hurting people. Helping other people get through what I've gone through is redemption to me. It's the only way on earth to plunder the pain.
Of course, I realize God would prefer for me to refrain from rehearsing those kinds of fears altogether, but He also knows my weaknesses and how deeply and subconsciously I associate love with risk. As long as I insist on torturing myself with these terrifying possibilities, He seems to suggest that I think them all the way through to the other side. The prospect of losing a loved one is horrifying. I cannot imagine enduring it, but because I know God is faithful, I must trust that somehow I would. Can you bring yourself to believe that you would as well?
God has promised that His grace will be given according to our need and that not only will we survive by the skin of our teeth, if we trust Him and hang on to Him for dear life—grieving, yes, but as those who have hope—we will also thrive again. We can give ourselves to something greater than painlessness. We can give ourselves to purpose. If we cooperate, good will indeed come to us and others around us and glory will most assuredly come to God. Otherwise, He would have forbidden the tragedy. Those of us who are in Christ will also spend eternity with the loved ones who have shared our faith, and this life will seem like a vapor in comparison.