One day several years ago—most likely during some winter break from school—I came into the kitchen at breakfast time.
At first, nothing seemed wrong. But closer inspection revealed that younger daughter Molly, who was sitting at the island, was looking forlorn with a lone tear trekking down each cheek.
Older sister Lilly was at the table, eating Cheerios and reading the newspaper.
I discovered there had been a bit of an incident while they were boiling water for hot chocolate. Though the mess had been cleaned up, a hand was still stinging, a heart still hurting.
Seeing the need for reconciliation, I quietly spoke to Lilly, who offered up a half-hearted apology. Going about my business, it occurred to me that what Molly needed, more than anything, was some sign of affection from her sister.
“Go give her a hug,” I said to her.
She looked away, obviously reluctant.
“What if she pushes me away?” she whispered.
As I recall this scene—with the benefit of hindsight and a few more years of mothering under my belt—I think I should have directed the “go hug your sister” instructions to Lilly, not Molly.
Wrong call or not, though, this little anecdote throws wide the door to a rush of tender thoughts, doesn’t it?
Reaching out to others—with the hand of friendship, words of reconciliation, offers of help, a personal story, overtures of affection—can be risky business.
The what-ifs are plentiful: What if I stumble over my words? What if they misunderstand my motivations? What if she slams the door in my face? What if they say no? What if she lashes out? What if I’m met with stony silence?
Pick one—any one—and it’s probably enough to give me pause. Even the possibility of rejection can, at times, trigger a numb ache from long-healed-over scars.
There is, however, one what-if that supersedes all of these: What if it’s the right thing to do?
I know. That’s not the chase-the-ache-away answer I want to hear either. But it’s true. There are times when I just have to take a deep breath and do what’s right—even if I don’t want to, I’m scared to, or I don’t really know how.
There’s a phrase that comes to mind about now, one that originated with Theodore Roosevelt. Our 26th president was an avid outdoorsman who loved to drag his colleagues, family members and even foreign diplomats along with him on exhausting cross-country hikes he called “scrambles.”
His motto for these excursions? “Over, under or through—but never around.”
I don’t know about you, but I want that to be my approach to life.
I don’t want to skirt the issue. I don’t want to avoid hard things. I don’t want to miss anything important because of fear or worry or lack of perseverance.
But I have a long way to go before these desires become reality in my life; maybe you do too.
So what can help us take that first step? What can help us start that project, reach out to that person, take that position—when the what-ifs loom large?
We can overcome our fear with truth—the timeless truth of scripture.
“He Himself will deliver you from the hunter’s net, from the destructive plague. He will cover you with His feathers; you will take refuge under His wings. His faithfulness will be a protective shield. You will not fear the terror of the night, the arrow that flies by day, the plague that stalks in darkness, or the pestilence that ravages at noon.” (Psalm 91:3-6)
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
“He said, ‘Don’t be afraid, you who are treasured by God. Peace to you; be very strong.’” (Daniel 10:19)
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
“When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6)
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)
The message is clear: God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) And reflecting on Him—His character, His presence, His provision, His sovereignty over the outcome—all of these strengthen us to act despite the what-ifs.
Over, under or through—but never around.
P.S. Linking up this week with Angela Parlin at #RaRaLinkup, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart, Crystal Storms at #HeartEncouragementThursday, Crystal Twaddell at FreshMarketFriday and Dawn Klinge at Grace & Truth.