ii. “What if” & “If only”

“If”. Such a little word, yet such an epic menace.

Anxiety loves to start sentences with “What if” or “If only”. In the height of my marriage-related anxiety, thoughts like “What if I’m making a mistake” and “If only I had a sign from God, then I’d know it’s going to be ok”, played on repeat. Even now, I can find myself coaxed into worrying about a never-ending list of potential upcoming disasters. I worry about what might happen if I get sick before an important event or whilst away on holiday, and I let my mind wander to anxious thoughts about the security I could’ve had if only I’d married an investment banker instead of my lovely, non-investment banker husband.

The trouble with the tiny but mighty word “if”, is that it lives in the future. And the future is a massive unknown. Irrespective of how much I worry about it, I cannot control whether any of my loved ones develop a terminal illness. I also cannot control suddenly being made redundant. Really, I even have a limited amount of control over the future of my marriage, because I do not control HF. Despite all my best wifely efforts, I don’t know for sure that he isn’t going to run off with someone else down the line, and there is no guarantee that we’ll have a long and/or happy marriage.

No wonder this little word has so much power over us; in the fallen world in which we live, there is a lot that could go wrong.

But the Bible has a pretty awesome antidote to “if”-syndrome. Jesus offers us an alternative to the endless worrying and wondering about how things are going to pan out. He promises that he has a plan for our lives, and that – unlike us – he really is in control.

Apparently God tells us “Do not be afraid” more than three hundred times in the Bible. Crikey. That’s a lot of reassurance, and from a good source – God, being in control of everything, doesn’t just want us to give up our addictions to hypothetical worrying. He wants us to lean on him fully, to stop trying to control things ourselves and then turning to jelly when we realise that we can’t. He asks us to trust him and his perfect plans.

So even “if” my life turns into a disaster, and that strange pain in my leg turns out to be an incurable disease, and HF decides he’s had enough of me and leaves for someone far more interesting and a million times more beautiful, Jesus tells me he’s with me for the long-haul.

Nothing is a surprise to God – he doesn’t deal in “if”s. He knew I’d type these words before I even thought of them, and he knew you’d read them exactly where you are, right now. We don’t have to live trapped by fear of the unknown, because all things are known to him.

So I don’t need to be afraid of the ‘what ifs’ – if only I trust him.

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i. Lessons from a List

For our first year anniversary, I gave my husband a big piece of paper with a list of a hundred things I love about him written on it. “The Love List” seemed fitting, since paper is meant to be the theme for first year gifts, but also because it marked a significant turning point; I’d finally stopped worrying that I’d made the most colossal mistake of my life.

What plagued me through our first year of marriage, and most of our engagement too, was this haunting & relentless question: how can you be sure you’ve chosen the right person? In short; how do you know you really love someone?

Even though I knew my HF (Husband-Friend) was a great match for me, and the type of good, kind, gentle godly man I’d always hoped to marry, those questions niggled at the back of my mind throughout a year of dating. By the time we’d gotten engaged, my mind was in overdrive; analysing my feelings every second of the day and constantly questioning whether he was “The One”. I asked my friends, my family, and prayed and prayed for a sign from God, desperate to be absolutely sure. When I still found myself questioning after 3 months of marriage, it confirmed my worst nightmare; I must have married the wrong person.

But here’s the thing. While I was fixating obsessively about how I was feeling, and how fulfilled our marriage was making me, I totally missed the main point. Marriage, it turns out, is not for me – and it’s not designed to fill me up. Contrary to what we’ve been conditioned to believe (thanks, Disney!), HF is not supposed to be my knight in shining armour, who swoops in to “complete” me. That’s a big God-shaped hole right there, that no marriage could ever fill.

And whilst I was so busy trying to work out if HF was my “soulmate”, I didn’t see all the amazing blessings of our marriage in the day-to-day of doing life together. Not the Hollywood version of love, not the butterflies and rainbows, but the real thing; the friendship, the companionship, the laughs and the cries, and the silly little things that make us “us”. The real life version; the God-planned version.

That’s where The Love List started; a year’s worth of things to be grateful for, along with a big lesson – I suspect a lifelong one – about what real love is about.

If I could sum up what I’ve learned so far, it would be this: love is not just a feeling. Love is an action, and a choice. Love is preceded by commitment, not the other way around. And the measure of real love – the thing I’d prayed for so many times – turns out to be how much you give of it; no matter how you feel. All part of God’s perfect plan.

Here’s to another hundred.