I wonder how often you wonder ‘what if?’
This has been a constant thought in my mind for the last 2 years. I’ve struggled to find employment, which has meant concern about money, but worse than financial strain has been the often overwhelming sense that I live with no purpose. My life has not ‘gone to plan’; eighteen-year-old me would be disappointed with how things have turned out for 25-year-old me. I took an extra year to complete my degree, then being overqualified for lots of jobs but underqualified to really do anything in the field in which I studied – leading to a few rubbish jobs, I haven’t met the man of my dreams and now have had to move back in with my parents, things that society seems to frown upon.
If only I had done a degree that would lead to a job.
If only I had stuck out terrible jobs.
If only I hadn’t bothered with further education.
If only I had been friendlier to boys I met at uni.
If only I hadn’t wasted time doing this.
If only I had done that instead.
Now, I know that if you’re older than me you’re probably thinking “Stop being daft, Beth. You’re still young, you have your whole life ahead of you.” I agree, I have plenty of time to do stuff and figure things out, but that wondering still hits me when I lie in bed at night.
And if you’re younger than me you may be thinking, “That won’t happen to me, my plan is foolproof.” Well, maybe things will go to plan for you, but in this fallen world we will face regrets and disappointments in some form.
Maybe you can relate to what I’m trying to say. It may not be on a scale like education and employment, maybe your ‘if only’ is about things you said, places you went, people you were with, things you watched or read, effort you made, money you spent.
In the book ‘The Hiding Place’ by Corrie ten Boom (see my review of this wonderful story set in wartime Holland previously on this blog), this theme is mentioned many times. On one occasion, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, couldn’t sleep because there were a number of explosions and noisy fighting going on near their hometown. Corrie had heard Betsie in the kitchen so went to sit with her where they drank tea and chatted until the noise died down. When Corrie returned to her bed she found a large piece of shrapnel on her pillow. She rushed back to her sister and this interaction happened:
‘“Betsie, if I hadn’t heard you in the kitchen-”
But Betsie put her finger on my mouth. “Don’t say it, Corrie! There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The centre of His will is our only safety – Oh Corrie, let us pray that we may always know it!”’
Can you see what happened?
If Betsie hadn’t got up for a cup of tea then Corrie would have stayed in bed. If Betsie hadn’t made a bit of noise doing so then Corrie would have stayed in bed. If Corrie had stayed in bed then that piece of shrapnel would have landed on her head. In her head, no doubt. That wouldn’t have just injured Corrie while she slept, she would surely have died. Betsie would have had to bury her dear sister. The good that Corrie did in rescuing hundreds, thousands of Jews during the war would never have happened. The Bible studies she began in concentration camps would never have happened. The efforts she made to rehabilitate war victims would never have happened.
Can you see the response?
Betsie’s love for the Lord isn’t overshadowed by her love for her sister. Instead, she points her dear sister to the Heavenly Father who has all things planned out. God knows all things, and all things are for our good and His glory. Corrie needs reminding of this at this moment, and Betsie is there to say it. She is gently rebuked, so gently that you hardly notice it! Such is Betsie’s love for the Lord. “Don’t say it” is more than being shushed because to hear it is too awful. This is a command to Corrie to stop engaging with that kind of thinking. If she indulges the thought of what could have happened, then she will lose sight of what actually happened. The miracle wasn’t that Corrie had stayed alive, the miracle was that God still wanted to use her for His glory. Betsie continues, “There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places.” What strikes me about this is how she refers to ‘God’s world’. This is indeed God’s world, so these ladies could be sure that everything that happened was very deliberate. Betsie reassures Corrie that she is safe because God has planned out her steps, her coming and going, her time to live and her time to die. If Corrie had been injured or even died that night then the assurance would be that she was still safe, because that was God’s perfect plan and will for her. And notice her prayer, ‘that we may always know it.’ Betsie recognises their weakness and sinfulness, and cries out for protection. How easy it could have been to look to other sources for safety, but instead she looks to God, the only refuge any of us can truly know.
There is so much to see of God’s goodness, His sovereignty, His love, His plan. How can knowing these things impact us when we have our ‘what if?’ moments? I’m going to suggest that we follow the Betsie ten Boom pattern.
- Don’t say it
Or, don’t think it. Considering what could have happened is pointless because it didn’t. We can make ourselves crazy and bitter by thinking something else would have been better or worse. If Corrie had dwelt on the thought that she was almost killed as she lay in bed she may have never gone to bed again. If you dwell on a situation you will struggle to find joy. Instead we must consider what is real and true. The Bible says we are to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4:4). The truth is that our joy comes from Him, not our circumstances. And in case you missed what that verse says it repeats itself, ‘again I will say, rejoice!’ Praise God that he knows us well enough to give us a reminder even though we just heard it. Later on in their story, Corrie finds herself angry when a guard in the concentration camp hit Betsie, leaving a mark on her face. Betsie calms Corrie by telling her not to look at the bleeding wound, but instead to “look only at Jesus”. This is what we need to do. That is how we can always rejoice.
- The centre of His will is our only safety
The situations in which we find ourselves, the people around us, the places that we are in are all very deliberate. All that happens is His will. Submitting to His will means to take reassurance, hope and comfort in knowing that what happens is for our good and His glory. So, when we are faced with ‘what if?’ thoughts that plague us, we can be sure that how thing have turned out is exactly what was meant to happen. For our good and for His glory. Read Romans 8 as a reminder.
- Pray that we may always know it
It’s all good and well hearing the words, ‘God planned your life to be like it is’, but when we are in the thick of difficult circumstances and miserable times how can we truly believe that? And if we do believe it, how can we trust that God has planned it for our good? It doesn’t feel good to be ill or unemployed or heartbroken, so how can these things happen to us for our good? Well, I think the only way we can really know it is if God reveals it to us. When you know it to be true in good times, pray that you will still remember it in the bad times. And when bad times come and it feels like there is no God, never mind one who works for your good, plead with him to show you again that he truly is working all things for your good and His glory.
The most important lesson to take from this story of Betsie ten Boom is that she loved her Lord more than anything. That is the only explanation of how she was able to point her sister to Him. She knew her Bible well, and she spoke with Jesus as if she knew He was walking beside her. That is a challenge to us, to me. Is that my experience of my Saviour? Is it yours?
N.B. If you would like to read ‘The Hiding Place’ but don’t have access to a copy, please get in touch with Extratime, via social media, and we will endeavour to help you get hold of one.