You can complete that sentence any way you want. Depending on your personality, it might either be positive (What if we took a vacation?) or negative (What if I lost my job?). In either case, you can drive yourself crazy thinking about the possibilities.
Most of the ways we complete that sentence don’t actually come to fruition, especially when it’s the negative usage. Rarely do the things that we expend so much time and energy worrying about actually happen. But every once in a while, they do. And when they do, they become markers in your life; there is life before this incident, and then there is life after—after the phone call; after the disease; after the loss.
That’s when the question changes. You’re no longer wondering “what if”; you’re wondering “what now?” It will happen. Chances are, it has happened. So what do you do then?
The temptation when “what if” becomes “what now” is to simply stop. To be paralyzed into inaction. To do nothing and then to fall back into the grind of posing scenario after scenario. The “what if’s” continue until you drive yourself crazy. You find, in that instance, that you begin to resent your friends because of their refusal to stop their lives and center them around you. You find yourself resenting those closest to you because if they are walking through the same “what if” reality you are, they also need tending to, and you are increasingly absorbed into your own needs. And you find yourself resenting God because He, after all, is the One who could have stopped this or could end it all at any moment.
Days stretch into weeks and weeks stretch into months, all the while you become an emotional hermit, living inside yourself where the air is stale.
There is, though, another option. It’s the option of plodding along at a slow pace, making the next right choice, one moment at a time.
This, I think, is more than just how we need to react when “what if” becomes “what now.” It’s also the guts of what it means to really follow Jesus. Often we make following Jesus more complicated than it needs to be. We look for the great revelation, the further knowledge, the emotional engagement, all the while God is calling us, as Bonhoeffer said, to “make up your mind and come out into the tempest of living.” But as we come out, we find what’s waiting for us is typically some everyday decision that we can either choose to make for the sake of Jesus or to make on behalf of ourselves. The same thing is true in our times of deepest pain as in the times of our deepest joy.
That’s because one of the most troubling parts of “what if” becoming “what now” is that we are reminded how little control we actually have over our lives. We click the seat belt, buy the insurance policies, educate and protect our kids – but in the end, we live the majority of our lives in reaction to the things we cannot control. In light of that, the question of “what now?” is one that we ask a thousand times each day in response to what we cannot control.
Following Jesus is stringing together a series of right decisions in the everyday occurrences of life, one moment at a time. We ask over and over again, “what now?” and then we act. This is perhaps why Jesus does not call us to a one time act of sacrifice for His sake, but instead lets us know that taking up our cross is a matter of daily action (Luke 9:23). We don’t just take it up once; we take it up a hundred times and in a hundred ways, but always one choice at a time.
So if today, for you, “what if” has become “what now”, you have at a very base level two choices to make. Either act or don’t act. Either choose or don’t choose. What now?