For several years a woman had been having trouble getting to sleep at night because she feared a burglar breaking in. One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went to investigate. Sure enough, he found a burglar. “Good evening,” the husband said. “I am pleased to see you. Come upstairs—my wife has waited 10 years to meet you.”
Do you become paralyzed by “what if” questions? What if it happens? What if it doesn’t? That’s what I call living hypothetically.
The imagination knows no bounds and when you really put your mind to it I bet you can conjure up an almost infinite number of possible disasters.
Another term I have for this habit is “awfulizing,” making dire predictions about the future. Awfulizing is a two-step process. First, you suppose worst-case scenarios, circumstances, and situations. Next, thinking they could happen, you react with fear, anxiety, distress, and even insomnia.
How’s that kind of thinking working out for you?
Living hypothetically or awfulizing is not emotionally, physically, or spiritually healthy. When fear of what might happen dominates your life it stamps out joy, peace, and confidence in the Lord. It robs you of the energy and vitality you need today. Rather than living the abundant life Jesus promised you live in bondage to your fearful imaginings and negatively impact those around you.
There is a better way! Here are four ways the Bible instructs us to think.
1. Replace control with commitment. Behind the awfulizing is often a need to control. The idea that someone other than you, including God, controls your future may be a terrifying idea. Being helpless and vulnerable scares you, so you fixate on hypothetical situations to avoid your feelings.
Jesus said, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34). He’s saying not to get fearful and fixated on tomorrow’s troubles—real or otherwise. Instead, focus on today, what is real now, and what you can control. Continually commit what you can’t control, including the future, to your all-loving and infinitely wise Father in heaven.
2. Replace worry with prayer. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need…” (Philippians 4:6). The kind of worry referred to here is distracting care, things our regular thoughts are drawn to and distracted by. When those distracting cares surface the Bible says, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). Hand off the everyday things you “what if” about to God. Don’t wring your hands in worry. Instead, clasp them in prayer. Commit your family, loved ones, work, finances, and whatever else you worry about to God regularly, entrusting everything to His loving care.
Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, gave this excellent advice: “Let us give up our work, our plans, ourselves, our lives, our loved ones, our influence, our all, right into [God's] hand; and then, when we have given all over to Him, there will be nothing left for us to be troubled about.”¹
3. Replace thanklessness with gratitude and appreciation. The second part of Philippians 4:6 says, “…and thank him for all he has done.” Expressing gratitude and appreciation to God does two things.
First, gratitude focuses your thoughts on present blessings and realities. It is impossible to be focused on present blessings and worried about future hypotheticals at the same time.
Second, gratitude shifts your mindset from negative worst-case scenarios to positive, real things. Increasing your love for God by thanking and appreciating what He has done for you makes it easier to trust Him with your future and not be fearful.
4. Replace false, negative thinking with true, positive thinking. When it comes to thoughts, it’s garbage in, garbage out. Philippians 4:8 says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Because emotions are responders, what you put into your mind and allow yourself to dwell on will determine the emotional response you get. Think about scary, hypothetical situations and you will experience fear. Think about what is real, true, honourable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, and “the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).
What if…you change your thinking and let go of living hypothetically?
¹ Source unknown.