My eight-year-old son Alex loves to play the game “Would You Rather?” He presents two alternatives and then asks anyone who will listen which they would prefer. Every mealtime and oftentimes while hanging out at the pool, Alex likes to offer his questions, which tend toward the crazy and fantastic. For example, assuming you could survive, would you rather live in a volcano or in the ocean? But then my eleven-year-old son Clay turned serious and asked, “would you rather change the past or know the future?” This proposition instantly increased my angst.
My automatic answer was to know the future, but I realize others might answer differently. Intellectually, I know this is a futile dilemma. We can’t change the past no matter how often we relive the memories or how hard we wish we could alter the actions of ourselves or others. We can’t have do-overs, and yet we continue to rethink what we would’ve said or could’ve done. We analyze all of the details and rearrange the pieces in our heads. If only this had occurred or if only that hadn’t, we believe things would’ve been better for us. We can get stuck in the past in our efforts to erase the pain and hurt.
As far as the future, we can spend massive amounts of time and energy worrying about how things might turn out. We end up living with constant stress because of our inability to predict the future. Sometimes, our desire to manufacture the outcomes we want can cause high levels of anxiety for us and others. Many circumstances are completely out of our control, and we cannot orchestrate people to behave the way we want without being manipulative and condescending. We want so badly for everything to turn out perfectly, but perfection is not a real possibility. Our yearning to avoid emotional harm can cause our hearts and minds actually to ache.
Even when we pray and invite God to be present in our situations, it’s not always obvious which decisions we should make. While we can try to follow God’s plans, there is no guarantee that we can figure it out successfully. We must pray and seek God and then make the best choices as we understand them. Sometimes, searching for God’s guidance has been difficult for me. I want to make the “right” decisions, and as a result, I end up praying in a stilted and stifling way. I find myself afraid to tell God what I truly want because I’m not sure if my desires line up with God’s. When I do tell God what I honestly want, I tend to back up and quickly say, “but your will be done,” almost as a disclaimer.
Being dishonest with God though is a ridiculous proposition. He knows us thoroughly and deeply and knows when we are being truthful with our whole hearts laid out before him or not. Fear of failing God and myself in the future are not good excuses for hiding my true and authentic self from God in the present.
So, I’ve decided that I’ll follow Alex’s way when faced with life’s “would you rather” questions. I will try to be upfront with God and make my preferences known. When I pray, I’ll say, “if I’m being honest, this is the way I would rather things turn out. But, if things don’t work out the way I’d like, then I’ll need your help to deal with how life plays out in reality.” When we face our “would you rather” dilemmas, I truly believe that God “would rather” we be honest, authentic, and vulnerable and trust that God is with us no matter what.