Jesus once asked, “Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying?” (Matthew 6:27 CSB) No! Worry doesn’t add anything to your life. It doesn’t make you healthier. It doesn’t make you happier. It doesn’t even affect one bit whether or not something happens. (That’s the difference between worry and legitimate concern: Concern leads to action, making you better prepared for tomorrow; worry can’t.)
If you struggle with anxiety, you know all this full well: Your experience with anxiety is a challenge, not a blessing. You’d ditch it in a heartbeat if you could.
The question isn’t so much, “Should we be worried?” We all know it’s not helpful and that we shouldn’t. If it were merely a matter of intellectual assent, we’d be fine. But worry has a way of sticking in the mind. It can’t be explained away; it needs to be driven out.
A friend of mine gave me a phrase recently that helps capture this reality. She was explaining how anxious she’s been since the coronavirus outbreak—even to the point of waking up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep. When asked what helped, she said, “Replacing what-ifs with even-ifs.”
She was referring to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. These three men found themselves in a genuinely anxiety-producing situation: Nebuchadnezzar, the king, had threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace if they continued worshiping God. They knew the right thing to do, but they had no guarantee from God that he’d save them.
Instead of wondering, “What if the king follows through on his threat and we lose our lives?” they told Nebuchadnezzar, “Even if we die, we’d prefer that to bowing to your false idol.”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew that God was able to deliver them. In the end, God did. But what is beautiful about this story is their confidence, regardless of the outcome. You can hear them saying to Nebuchadnezzar, “Look, there is nothing you can do to us that is outside of God’s control, and everything we go through is under his care. So even if you throw us into the fiery furnace, and even if we die, we know we’re in God’s hands. And that’s where we want to be.”
These men met their worry about what if with the confidence of even if. And that confidence only comes from the promise that God is.
God is all-loving. God is all-powerful. God is ever-watchful. Most beautifully, God is present with us in suffering, having demonstrated his love for us by dying on the cross. Those “God is” realities transform our worries. They give us the power to take our what-ifs and replace them with even-ifs.