From the moment I walked through the door I was already looking for a way out. Stephanie had ensured me it was worth a try. I had once again thrown my back out and was in serious pain. However, even this seemed a bit extreme. I wasn’t so sure of the idea as I stood in the dim lit room, dripping wet from the mandatory pre-shower and peering into the intended soothing swirl of blue lit water. It’s not weird, I thought to myself, people do this all the time, I kept trying to reassure myself as I stepped in. I hate baths, my attempts at reassurance failing. How am I supposed to sit here for an hour when I can hardly sit in my bath at home for five minutes? As I inched in, the water was not too warm or cold. Then came the moment of truth. I turned off the light, grabbed the lid and pulled it shut. As I lay there in complete darkness and silence, floating on a bed of salt water, the first question that invaded my mind was, what if?
What if my brothers knew I was trapped in here? What if they knew I was floating in an enclosed salt water bath with only one escape route? They would not hesitate to take advantage of the situation. My mind kept wandering to thoughts of them locking me into the pod or stealing my clothes. I was thankful they didn’t know where I was and that I didn’t have to figure out how to gracefully exit the building without clothing. But, what if they knew?
As I settled into my sensory deprived home for the next 60 minutes I couldn’t turn my brain off.
It’s weird that I can’t really tell if my eyes are open or not.
Don’t touch your eyelids dummy, salt water stings.
What if I fall asleep, will I drown?
Don’t risk it. Don’t fall asleep.
What if they didn’t put enough salt in here, I’m a pretty big guy?
It’s science and it works. Just relax.
What if I forget to drop the letter off at the post office after.
Man, I’m hungry.
All I could hear were my thoughts as I sent them into the darkness that enclosed me. I wrestled my mind into relaxation as I experienced the sensation of what it must feel like to float silently through space. I found the key was to focus on my breathing. In through my nose and out through my mouth. In and out. Slow it down. Soon my brain settled and the only sounds were my breath, the blood pulsing through my head and something like the sound televisions made back in the day when they were on a station that wasn’t broadcasting. Muffled white noise.
Years ago as a student at the University of Washington, I was headed to the library. I walked up the steps toward the entrance and passed a girl who was leaving. As we neared each other she stopped me, put a hand on each of my shoulders and said, “You know what would be cool? If we could record silence and crank it hella loud.” I had no idea who she was and as she walked away I could safely assume she was under the influence of something. What I was experiencing in that moment, in the salt water bath, is what I can only imagine she dreamed of, silence cranked “hella” loud. Who knows, she may be the one that owns the place.
“What if?” is a both exciting and terrifying question to ask. For better or for worse it is a question that is often running through my mind.
What if we called in sick for the next week and took the kids to Disneyland?
What if we sold the house, bought an RV and traveled the country for a year?
What if I don’t make it back from the climb this time?
What if something happens to Steph and I’m left to raise the kids by myself?
What if one of the kids gets sick or hit by a car?
It’s both an exciting and terrifying question to ask.
At the heart of the “what if” question typically lies two polar opposites. The first being wonder. My children are examples of this. They’ll play this game with Stephanie and I for hours if we let them and typically we get some really creative scenarios. Just the other day we had a discussion at the dinner table anchored around the questions, “What if the world starts to fall to pieces and the earth is not habitable in 10 years? What would we do?” I love hearing my kid's creative solutions around a hopefully hypothetical question. You can rest assured that the solution was to "become Bill Gates' friend so we could hitch a ride on his spaceship to Mars where he would be starting a new colony for people he likes." The joys of living near Microsoft.
Whether intentional or not, Stephanie and I have fostered a heart of wonder in our kids through these types of questions.
“What if money were no object? What would the perfect day look like?”
“What if we could magically make our dreams come true? What would we daydream about?”
“What if you could travel in time? Where would you go and who would you meet?”
“What if you served God with your whole heart and surrendered to the story He wants to tell through your life? What could that look like?”
The options are endless. We ask them during meals and in car rides. We ask them at night as we’re getting ready for bed. We ask them when we’re sitting around the fireplace playing card games. We’ve noticed these questions can reveal the hearts of our children and have led to trips and adventures we would have never otherwise experienced. Our kids have no problem playing the wondrous “what if” game. For them, the questions are the entrance into a magical world of adventure and potential. They don’t worry so much about future concerns or past mistakes. Kids tend to have the ability to be more in the moment. I wish I was the same way.
When I ask these “what if” questions they don’t always lead to wonder. I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older and loaded with more responsibilities the “what if” questions are more often based out of fear. If the fruit of wonder is excitement and hopeful anticipation, the fruit of fear is anxiety and stress. While my children’s questions foster daydreaming and adventure, my questions often reveal a heart that still doesn’t trust God as much as I want to. I think to my detriment the “what if” game has often turned me from wonder to worry.
These fear-based questions often intensify during uncomfortable seasons I walk through. As of late the questions sound more like,
What if God is asking me to walk away from my job again and trust Him? He’s done it before.
What if I think I’m hearing God but I’m wrong and it ends up causing unnecessary suffering for my family?
What if my health starts to fail and I don’t have sufficient insurance to cover the medical bills?
What if I’m not around long term to father my kids?
What if I’m not being intentional enough with my wife and our relationship?
What if my kids go sideways because I don’t have the energy or time to sufficiently give to them?
What if God asks me to do something I won’t be able to do?
That rabbit hole goes down really quick and far deeper than I can see.
To make matters more complicated, through recent prayer and listening to God I really do think He’s asking me to walk away from my job and wait. What I mean by wait is, don’t go to another bank. Don’t try to find another job. Just wait. It doesn’t make sense in my mind. The questions continue.
What if we have to sell the house because we can’t afford the mortgage?
What if I’m being irresponsible toward my family?
What if Stephanie agrees at first but regrets it afterward.
What if I’m hearing God wrong or not at all?
What if other people think poorly of my choice?
What if it’s all a big mistake?
I’ve also been dealing with heart health issues. I get these heart flutters in my chest that started in late 2017. I was at my CrossFit gym doing a pretty intense cardio workout when it hit. I went to the ER because I thought I was having a heart attack. I’m 40 and my dad was 41 when he had a heart attack. My heart wasn’t working the way it should which is problematic with my family history of heart disease. The fear is always in the back of my mind. By God’s grace it wasn’t a heart attack but it was enough to warrant follow-up with a Cardiologist. They ran their tests for a few weeks with no solid conclusions. Shortly after, the symptoms died down only to come back in full force six months later. The flutters came back with a vengeance. What would previously happen for a few minutes at most was now happening non-stop for weeks on end. It stripped me of any false sense of control or security I thought I had. More tests and still no real conclusion as to any solution. I sat in a heart surgeon waiting area as a 40-year-old CrossFitter surrounded by people 20 years my senior asking myself, what if this is how it all ends?
As you can see some of these “what if” questions are not hypothetical to me. They’re as real and tangible to me as the coffee I drink as I write (the coffee may be part of the problem). In fact, I literally walked away from my banking career today. I’m not exaggerating when I say I just dropped off my keys and laptop to a really good paying job and walked out with no intent of ever walking back. I’m no stranger to job changes but this one is different. I believe the confusing and unnerving health issues may be driven, at least in part, by stress. While our prayers are that my heart won’t be an issue forever, it has led to some serious questions.
What if I stay in this job and it ultimately kills me?
What if we obey what He’s asking us to do and we lose everything?
The answer is always the same.
Wait. Trust me.
In Brennan Manning’s book, Ruthless Trust, he devotes a chapter to what he calls the “Geography of Nowhere.” The idea being, if our thoughts are on the past they will often lead to guilt or shame for failures. If our thoughts are bent toward the future the fruit is often fear and anxiety for what may or may not happen. Regret the past mistakes. Fear the future unknown.
Manning tells the story of Fionn MacCumhaill, a mythical Irish warrior and hunter, as he takes in the beauty of County Kerry in Southwestern Ireland.
“What is the finest music in the world?”
“The cuckoo calling from the tree that is the highest in the hedge,” cried his merry son.
“A good sound,” said Fionn. “And Oscar,” he asked, “what is to your mind the finest of music?”
“The top of music is the ring of a spear on a shield,” cried the stout lad.
“It is a good sound,” said Fionn.
And the other champions told of their delight: the belling of a stag across the water, the baying of a tuneful pack of heard in the distance, the song of a lark, the laughter of a gleeful girl, or the whisper of a loved one.
“They are good sounds all,” said Fionn.
“Tell us, chief,” one ventured, “what do you think?”
“The music of what is happening,” said great Fionn, “that is the finest music in the world” (p. 149).
What matters is the here and now. This very second. Manning continues, “The music of what is happening can be heard only in the present moment, right now, right here...More often than not, I do not hear the music of what is happening now because my mind ricochets between the past and the future" (p. 150). The fruit is often shame over the past and anxiety for the future. What Jesus wants for us is so much more. He offers freedom from past mistakes and wonder toward a future of adventure. The cost for entrance into His story is trust. I realize this idea goes against all that our leadership and goal oriented cultural wisdom would say. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are far above our thoughts.
I’ve recently been trying to re-evaluate my perspective on the “what if” questions I ask myself. Is there a way to shift the way they’re asked so the end result is wonder instead of anxiety? I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop the questions coming into my mind in situations of uncertainty. However, I believe I can re-frame them in a more wondrous and less fearful light.
What if we have to sell the house?, becomes, What if God is calling us to a new and better place to serve Him and further His Kingdom?
What if we’re making a mistake?, gets re-framed as, What if we make the mistake of not obeying what we think He’s asking us to do, even if we’re wrong?
I’m absolutely convinced that our Heavenly Father finds joy in our simple and broken displays of worship and stumbling attempts at obedience. Just like a kid who proudly hands his mother a less-than- perfect art project, our Father is excited that we were thinking about Him when we made it. He’s not a tame God and when we do things that are not deemed as “tame” we march to the same beat of His heart.
I feel I understand a little more what Elijah must have felt when he responded to certain death just after the pinnacle of his experience of God’s power. Elijah, after an amazing victory for God and His people, received a death threat from the queen and did the only thing he thought he could do. He ran. Elijah finds himself on a mountain, in a cave, waiting on God. While awaiting a strong wind, “… tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord…” but, “… the Lord was not in the wind.” After the wind an earthquake, “…but the Lord was not in the earthquake.” After the earthquake a fire, “…but the Lord was not in the fire (1 Kings 18-19).” After the fire, a whisper. At that point Elijah covers himself and leaves the cave to speak with God who he knew had finally arrived.
He asked Elijah to trust Him and wait for the whisper in the midst of the chaos. He asks the same of us.
Sometimes the chaos of what is happening consumes us and pulls all of our attention away from the whisper of God’s voice. It takes slowing down to really listen and hear that voice. It is far easier to play the “what if” game in the midst of the storm instead of just listening. I wonder how many times I’ve missed His voice as a result.
Not long ago I sat in front of my boss as I gave him my notice to leave the bank. He asked me where I was going to work and I felt the empty pit form in my stomach as I told him I wasn’t sure. The pit was my pride. I felt like a failure. In fact, I was a failure in the world's eyes. Luckily, success in God's Kingdom doesn’t look like success in the world. First Samuel 15:22 says, “… to obey is better than sacrifice…” Success in God’s Kingdom is measured in obedience to what He’s asked us to do. While the world screams failure at me, the Father whispers, “Good job.”
I find myself standing on a cliff looking down into the unknown. I’m familiar with the jump; He’s asked me to take the leap before. What’s different this time is that there’s no clear spot to land. I don’t know what tomorrow looks like. What I do know is that He is good and has always been there for me and my family. He’s proved Himself trustworthy time and time again. He calls us into the adventure of His greater story and all we have to do is take that jump. It won’t make sense to everyone and it shouldn’t. It’s simply time to trust again. There is the cliff. Will I trust? I’m not certain what will come of it, but like a kid standing on the edge of a pool while dad beckons him into the water the Father asks, “Do you trust Me?”
Of course I trust You, but I’m still scared.
There will be more to tell of this season as God begins to reveal what He has in store for my family and me. Until then, this story continues to be one of trust in a God who doesn’t play by our rules and asks for all that we are. I’m not sure where I heard this idea originally but there is not much in this world we can offer God that he doesn’t already have other than our trust. Our trust is a gift we can give Him. Trust is an act of worship toward a God that is good. His story told through us is worth the price of admission.
If you find yourself needing to quiet your soul, give the salt bath float thing a shot. It’s worth a try and I promise I probably won’t show up to lock you in or take your clothes. Just make sure to tell me when you go!