Have you ever been in the state where you obsessively worry about what could happen in your life? Worrying about not having enough money and how to pay your bills? Wondering – “what if I lose my job?” “What if my children get hurt?” “What if that medical test shows a serious illness?” The endless “what if” questions that get us into a state of fear….
When my daughter Laura was 7 years old I had an experience that shifted my “what if’s” of worrying to a different kind of “what if.”
As we arrived at the dance studio for Laura’s lesson, I parked on the side of the one-way road and told her to have a good time! As she got out of the car, she looked left for oncoming traffic. The road is lightly used and as usual, it was clear.
In the very moment that she started to run across the road, a car came from the right, heading the wrong direction down the one-way road. Laura was directly in front of the car when the driver slammed on the brakes, abruptly stopping within inches of her. As you can imagine, it was a frightening experience for everyone.
It happened so fast there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it. For days after, I kept remembering and talking about it. “What if she had been hit by the car?” “What if she had been hurt?” “What if she had been killed?” Those questions helped me see how fragile life is but they also became a turning point for how I looked at negative situations. Although a very scary experience, I fixated on the idea it could have been much, much worse with more profound consequences!
I realized looking at other possible outcomes when things don’t seem to be going right could shift my perspective. People can find it hard to stay positive; when something goes wrong we complain and worry. But, what if whatever is happening is the best outcome? It has turned into a game for me. If something happens and I trust that it’s the best outcome, then I wonder what the alternatives could have been.
This little “what if mind-game,” as I like to call it, helps me be calmer and more accepting when things don’t go right or the way I want them to. Maybe what’s happening or has happened is a much better outcome that what might have been.
I was on a plane that aborted on takeoff, just at the moment we should have lifted into the air. As the plane swerved to a stop, my mind was already thinking about the possibility of my trip being delayed. But having years of practice using my “what if” game, my thoughts quickly went to “what if the plane crashed because we took off rather than aborting?!” I would much rather be on the ground from on aborted flight than on the ground from a crashed one! Although my trip could be delayed, I would still be here to do it!!
Walking into my Lily Dale house to see water pouring out of the ceiling was shocking. Wallboard and insulation lay in a sodden heap on the flooded floor. The damage was significant. But, there were some obvious positives that I immediately recognized:
It looked like the water had only been gushing for a couple of days so it was fortunate I went to the house that day, rather than a week later! “What if I hadn’t gone to the house then?”
The damage was in a part of the house that still needed to be remodeled and that area needed to be gutted anyway; we would just do it sooner rather than later. “What if the pipe broke in the area we had already remodeled?”
Although sometimes we never find out why it’s a better outcome, in the case of my broken pipe, I did find out.
If that pipe hadn’t broken I wouldn’t have found the extension cord that was hidden in the insulation in the ceiling, barely plugged into an outlet I had no idea was there. “What If the pipe hadn’t broken and the house caught on fire?” Wasn’t it a blessing the pipe broke when it did and that the damage revealed a greater possibility of loss? So rather than getting upset about the broken pipe and damage, I was fine with it when I considered the alternatives.
The next time something doesn’t go the way you want, big or little, try my “what if” game. It could help you appreciate what you do have, because the alternatives could be much worse. We frequently don’t know the whole picture and this helps me trust that whatever is happening is for the best.