Friday, October 21, 2011

The "What-If" Game

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been playing the “what if” game.  I played it as a child and I play now as a grown-up of sorts.
There are different kinds of what-ifs, some healthier than others.
Firstly, there are the ones that simply cause more anxiety:
What if the neighborhood cougar eats me when I take the compost out?  (although the neighborhood cougar was very real, it never attacked a human.  He preferred sheep and chickens)
What if it snows so much that we can’t get home from school? (at least once we were sent home early to avoid this)
What if Mommy gets in a car accident because the weather is so horrible and she doesn’t come home from work? (she worked homecare in a rural setting.  The weather was often very horrible at night)
The anxiety causing ones are typically things that are well beyond our control and we can do little to nothing to prepare for them.

Then there are the what-ifs that lead to being prepared:
What if instead of being sunny on our campout it rains? (hint: pack rain gear)
What if there is a fire in the building I’m in? (hint: know your exits)
What if I get stuck in traffic with 13 little girls in the back of the van? (true  story.  Hint: sing songs and make up games)
What if my Kingdom Kids finish their craft in 5 minutes instead of 15?  (hint: always overplan)
What if our trip takes a day longer than planned? (hint: bring extra underwear and extra medication)
What if we come upon a car accident while we are driving? (hint: keep your first aid training up to date and carry a first aid kit in the car)
What if I'm hungry before I get home? (hint: always bring a snack!)

There are some what-ifs that are more likely than others:
“What if I get kidnapped?” is a much less likely scenario than “What if I get hit by a car on my way to school?” (some mornings my eyes are barely open as I cross the street to school)
“What if I forget that it’s my Sunday to do liturgy?” is much more likely to happen than “What if I forget the way to church?” (It’s been a year, it involves no more than 3 turns and one of them is a forced turn)
“What if I forget to comb my hair?” is much more likely than “what if I forget to get dressed before going to class?”

Then there are the really fun what-ifs, the ones that let you play with the future and explore different ideas:
What if I decide not to go on my J-term trip?
What if I don’t turn in my credo paper on time?
What if I decide to stop going to school for a while and instead get a real job?
What if he actually loves me instead of just likes me?
What if I dye my hair purple?
What if I move to a different state?
What if I switch to distance learning?
What if I decide to get my nose pierced?
What if I find out I can’t have children?
What if I could find all the people who ever made me angry and beat them with a wet noodle?
What if the seizures never go away?
What if I could stop worrying about what people think about me?
What if this is my last day on earth?

The last list is by no means complete and not all of them are necessarily happy or serious.  They just are.  In one of my classes this semester, Play in Life and Ministry, we’ve been reading about creativity and how playing the “what-if” game can actually be healthy.  It helps you see outside of the normal bounds of society.  It gives you the freedom to look beyond what is immediate and play with the concepts of time and the future.  Of course, some what-ifs are just plain worrisome and should not be played with (see the first list).
So how do you play with the future and time? How do you relieve your stress by playing with your imagination?  What are some of your what-ifs?

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