It was the Easter holidays, the sun was shining and so I decided to walk to church. I thought I would take a short cut, and I made my way along what we, as children, used to call “the muddy way,” where we had ridden our bikes and made camps during the long summer holidays, playing without a care in the world and with little thought for the future.
Further along I passed the field at the back of the primary school I had attended as a child; the place where I had played and worked, where I had developed a love of reading and a hatred of maths and where I had won a running race in Year Three (this was possibly my only sporting achievement until I smashed the slow bicycle race in high school).
As I walked past the end of the road I had lived as a child, I remembered the noisy meals around the table, the fun and friction of family life and a home which had become a gathering point for a group of young people from our church to hang out. This walk reminded me of the stories of growing up, of hopes and dreams, dramas and disappointments, of family and fun, of things that had the air of permanence.
Of course, life moves on with its twists and turns and the one thing guaranteed to happen is change. When I was still teaching in the classroom on a day-to-day basis, my favourite part of the day was story time. There is something about losing yourself in a children’s story, suspending reality for a short while and going on a journey together into an imaginary world. As I walked that day I reflected on how the stories of my life have changed. The muddy path was muddy no longer; it was paved. And the places we made camps had been planted with flowers and shrubs. The school where we had spent so much of our lives had become a place I attend for meetings as a teacher, where I can enter in the front door, use the staff room and leave whenever I choose. The house where we grew up is, after 43 years of family life, no longer the home of my parents and I now live in a different home, married to one of those young people who was part of those youthful gatherings. The stories of my life have all moved on.
Some of the stories of our lives develop over time. Some stories have clear endings and new beginnings. Some move seamlessly into new joint stories with other people through our relationships developing. The different threads have highs and lows, twists and turns, sorrows and joys. If we knew during our early days where some of our stories would take us, we might have been tempted to change the details or hurry to the parts where we were happy, but we would have missed learning and growing through the parts that have made us who we are today.
One of my favourite stories that we used to read as a class was “What if?” There’s a farm of animals who spend a whole day nervous about a new animal arriving, worrying that she will take away their jobs. What if the new animal provides milk? What if she lays eggs? What if she pulls the cart? They worry so much that they fail to notice their babies have wandered off until they meet the new arrival; a kangaroo who is carrying them all in her pouch. She is the new “childminder” for the farm, who simply allows them freedom to complete their roles.
I think we can all get a little worried about the “what ifs;” looking at the stories of our lives and wondering what would have happened if the plot had taken another turn, if we had made different choices, met other people, chosen alternative paths. But when we are so busy thinking about the “what ifs,” we risk missing what is happening in the here and now, how our own story is developing and how we can make choices that will give our story more purpose and value.
Some of the stories that we are living now are good and fun and give us daily reasons to be thankful. Some of the stories are painful or difficult and we wonder how we will endure them or what the ending will be. I want to make sure I make a daily choice to be thankful about those stories that are good, and also another choice to trust that those challenging stories are not finished yet, and that the choices I make within them can make a difference to the people around me and my own inner peace. And I want to wield the power of the “what if” for good.
What if your “what ifs” were helpful? What if, instead of questioning the choices you made, you challenged yourself towards something better and bolder? I hope the “what ifs” of my life are more along the lines of: What if I try something new? What if I did that thing that scares me? What if I reach out to those suffering or hurting around me and take my eyes off myself? I hope anyone who observes the stories in my life sees a choice to trust in the Author who knows the end from the beginning, who leaves no work unfinished and, if you let him, will surprise you with more awesome plot twists than you ever thought possible.
Written by Rosalyn Satchell