Vale of Tears

Resisting the but-what-ifs



Resisting the but-what-ifs

Child, I am telling you your own story, not hers.
I tell no one any story but his own.
Did I not explain to you once before
that no one is ever told what would have happened
C.S. Lewis18

On a perilous voyage to find the seven friends of King Caspian’s father, the Dawn Treader anchors in the remote Island of the Duffers. Entering a magician’s house, Lucy finds herself unable to resist the temptation to perform the spells she reads about in a book. One of these enables her to overhear a conversation back home in England. This turns out to be anything but a blessing, for she overhears a so-called friend siding with another girl in speaking against her. Aslan tells Lucy in no uncertain terms that she has no business to be prying in this way, but urges her not to think too harshly of the girl: she was acting under peer pressure and did not really mean what she had said.19

We need such reminders to respect proper boundaries. Why waste time asking questions that we can, for the moment, find no answer for? Once we allow house room to the “but what ifs” and the “if onlys,” we soon risk their faith-deadening refrains drearifying our hearts.

It is so easy in the aftermath of loss to go over and over events, wondering if things would have worked out differently if only certain events had not happened, and we had not acted as we did. To be sure, we may not always have acted wisely, but the beauty of the Lord’s dealings with us is that He takes us as we are, and leads us on from there.

A change of environment can do wonders to keep us from too much brooding. So too can worship. We have seen that under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, music can touch parts of our inmost being that words alone cannot reach. Put on some music and lift your heart in praise – it is a wonderful antidote for fear and doubt.

As surely as we must often make the effort to “switch channels” when our minds become stuck, I hope you will forgive me for mentioning the “electronic companions” that we pass so many hours in front of. We are blessed to have access to such an impressive range of dramas, sports, music, news and documentaries, but we are wise to keep this far from insignificant portion of our lives under the Lord’s guidance.

Idle channel flipping, like endless hours playing computer games, or shopping and surfing on the Net has the potential to isolate as well as to “connect” us, and to distract us from getting on with the hard work that alone can accomplish our real hopes and dreams.

In our “reduced-through-grief” state, most of us are happy to use television as a “pacifier” at times. The danger comes if we fall into the way of thinking that its tightly crafted dramas are where the real action is taking place. That is when people start living out their hopes and dreams vicariously through the fictitious dilemmas that the soaps portray.

At the very least, it is wise to check whether the Lord is happy for us to watch particular programmes. The more we reduce our dependency on television, and from spending unnecessary hours at the computer terminal, the more time and energy we will have for Kingdom business – which itself is a wonderful antidote for dispersing the pangs of grief.

“God has given us two hands,” Billy Graham reminds us, “one to receive with and the other to give with.” Ring a friend and arrange to do something together. Reach out and perform some kindness for someone. The Kingdom consists of many small acts, which Love expands and multiplies.

Since grief is not a time to absorb negativity, if it is at all possible, make sure that you spend quality time with people whose words and attitudes build you up and encourage you. Life is not just for television stars, or for people in the public eye – it is for all of us to live to the full.

As a deliberate act of the will, catch yourself whenever you find yourself rehearsing imaginary conversations with people who have caused you grief, or with whom you particularly want to make a good impression. You know from only too much experience where these inner dialogues are likely to lead – to endless turmoil and gloomy dead ends!

Reflect and Pray

Lord Jesus,
give us the determination to rise above the but-what-ifs.
and to find creative ways to live
that will refresh and inspire others.

So far as it is possible, keep us from people
who drain and intimidate us –
but when we do have to be in contact with them,
may we not allow their influence
to crush our seeking of You,
for You never permitted anyone else’s agenda
to direct Your days or to rob You
of Your peace and purpose.


18 Lewis, C.S. (2001) The Horse and His Boy. p. 139. Collins
19 Lewis, C.S. (2000) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. pp. 123-4. Collins

Banner Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Woodland Photo by Tom Shakir on Unsplash