I live in an American culture that is deeply rooted in the if-then mindset.
- If you buy this new thing, then you will be happy.
- If you get a gym membership, then you will work out.
- If you get this beauty product, then you'll be sexy, thin, and shaped like Barbie.
- If you get a 4 year degree, then you will get a good job.
- If you do this and that, then you'll be accepted into this University one day.
- If you had a timeshare, then you would vacation and your vacations would be awesome.
- If you invest your money like this, then you'll be a millionaire by this age & you'll be set.
- If you eat right and throw away your microwave, then you will not get cancer.
- If you write a blog post a day, then you will be widely read.
- If you have a clean desk, then you will be productive.
- If you are a published author, then blah blah blah.
- If you knew and were liked by so and so, then you would have access to such and such.
- yatta yatta
But it's rubbish! If-then statements are 98% lies and don't work ....and if you don't believe me, then you'll be wrong 98% of the time. ha!
It's also not just on trivial American things we do this with either. We do this in the "christian" church all the time too. I'm mean seriously, haven't you heard people say these or even bought into some of them a time or two?
- If you could get this one sin under control, then you'd be holy.
- If you train a child to do xyz, then they'll grow up to be like Jesus.
- If you marry a Christian, then your relationship will be great.
- If you hold to this doctrine, then you are orthodox and God is happy with you.
- If your church uses this curriculum, then your church is solid.
- If you have an accountability partner, then you'll have integrity.
- If you do would just do this thing or things, then your church or youth group or whatever will grow.
- If you pray like so and so, then you'll see results like so and so.
- ... and about a thousand more
It doesn't work like that. It'd be awesome if it did, but it doesn't. The world and faith and marriage and managing money and building a community of faith is not just a complex series of if-then truths that I just need to order right to be successful.
When I wrap my head around this reality that I'm living in an "if-then" world full of bogus 1/2 truths and sometimes flat out lies, then I find two common responses in myself. Some days I lean towards becoming an "Apathetic Doubter" where I just give up trying to produce certain results cuz there is no formula anyway. Yet other days I lean towards being a "Zealous Believer" where I set out to find the solutions that work, believing here is a formula and it just needs to be found.
But like bandaids on a viral wound, neither response removes the funk inside.
So my most recent conclusion is that there is a third way to manage this reality I live it. I'll call it trying to be a "Faithfully Present" disciple. This means at least 3 things:
Enjoy the "if"so much that the "then"clause coming true is merely a bonus, not critical to success. "If" I go on this vacation... then nothing. Then maybe the car will break or maybe I'll get a book read or maybe I'll miss my flight or maybe I'll be really rested. But what I can do is handle each "if" moment in faith. I can only do the "if" that I can find joy in, cuz the "then" is a gamble half the time anyway. When I enjoy the experience and use it as an act of worship, it has a default then built in.
Stop fighting for the illusion of Control. If I prepare a sermon, I can't control how people will respond. If I plan a retreat, then I can't control what God will do on a retreat. If I work hard, then I can't control what that hard work will do in those around me. When I'm primarily not trying to build buildings or paint walls, but rather change people's lives, the "then" part of just about all of my ministry is out of my control. It's not basic math, it's complicated and complex soul shaping of human beings. You can't "if-then" that, no matter how hard I try. The truth is, if I don't enjoy the "If I prepare a sermon" part of ministry, then I'm hoping the "then" will make it all worth it and when people don't do the "then" I had hoped, the whole thing falls apart. "If I meet with someone", then I'll have met with someone I care about. Period. The consequence of that meeting or investment is not mine to decide and waaaay beyond my control anyway.
Call out the "if-then" lies when I see, hear, or am tempted to believe them. I have to constantly check my motivations and call out the false hopes I constantly buy. "If" I do this thing, "then" people will be happy and God will like me and I'll believe I'm successful. That's simply not true. Ever. I have to be really really really careful about the "if-then" causes I buy into. So many of them are just plain deception.