Friday, September 12, 2008

What would you do?

When I was in the TESOL program, I had to teach a lesson on the “Unreal Conditional.” My trainers suggested using the phrase “If I had a million dollars…” to start out. Logically, it is easy to use this example to show the meaning and formation of the grammar point. The person obviously doesn’t have a million dollars at the moment, so it is clearly unreal. I didn’t really want to use that example, however. First of all, I didn’t know if it would be culturally appropriate with our foreign students. Also, I think it is difficult to predict what you would do if you were in a situation that is highly improbable. Why should I make plans for non-existent money? It’s just a waste of time and will fuel desire for something I might never have.

I think that a lot of times, hypothetical situations just aren’t worth thinking about. Sometimes in high school we had “moral debates.” The teacher would read out a moral dilemma and ask us to argue about it. I suppose this could be an opportunity to witness about my faith, but it can also produce unneeded anxiety or conflict. What would you do if you had to go back into a burning building and had to choose which of your children to save? What would you do if you knew about a crime that had been committed? Many of our exercises had to do with honesty. It frustrated me because I wanted to defend the existence of absolutes, yet we were given extreme examples. One question regarded whether or not as doctors we would tell a terminally ill patient about his/her disease.

There are, however, times when it is worth it to think ahead. And it is important to have a position on certain moral issues. Sometimes “it depends” is not an option. Preparedness is a good idea for moral as well as practical issues. There’s nothing wrong with looking at the weather report and being prepared in case of rain. There’s nothing wrong with noticing that a financial crisis may be imminent, and coming up with alternate plans. There’s nothing wrong with taking a course in CPR. Do I need to imagine all the bloody/scary/life-threatening accidents that could occur? No. But I can acquire the skills for dealing with them, just in case. And I can prepare my heart for facing difficult spiritual matters, even if I can’t imagine which of them I will have to face.

My standard answer for untimely hypothetical questions is “I don’t know.” Maybe I have an idea of what I would do, but I don’t like to make assumptions. Life is full of surprises, and only God knows what the future holds. I think it’s perfectly fine to have a measure of uncertainty about the details.

If you answer too quickly, you may simply have to change your mind. If you had asked me several years ago if I could imagine myself living in Russia, I would have said no. If you had asked if I wanted to teach ESL, I would have said no. I definitely didn’t think I would ever have an excuse to go to Africa.

I don’t know how long I will live in Russia. I don’t know if I will ever marry. I don’t know what I will be doing in 5 years. I don’t know if I will ever have a terminal illness. And I don’t need to know right now. And I'm not going to worry about it!


  1. What a really excellent post. I want to read it over again. And maybe again. It has so much to think about, especially since I have something large looming...that I don't know whether or not to worry about.

  2. Спасибо за интересные размышления! Они напомнили мне отрывок Мк.13:11

  3. Liz said:

    "1. I don’t know how long I will live in Russia.

    2. I don’t know if I will ever marry.

    3. I don’t know what I will be doing in 5 years.

    4. I don’t know if I will ever have a terminal illness.

    5. And I don’t need to know right now. And I'm not going to worry about it!"


    1. You just got back there. Don't try to get out yet.

    2. You will get married, sooner than you think.

    3. You will be married, raising a kid or two.

    4. Naaah. Do you have a family history of something?

    5. I often worry. I do not know if I would have achieved anything if I didn't. But, maybe it's just me.

  4. Спасибо за дополнение! Я не стала называть место в писании, так как Мф.6:34 не совсем совпадает. А Мк 13:11 вот подойдет.

  5. I hope that I will still be following the Lord in 5 years, but everything else above is "wait and see"!

    Maybe I shouldn't have said that I'm "not going to worry." We all worry at one time or another, and it's an opportunity to turn to God. Maybe a better word is "preoccupy." I seek to not preoccupy myself with matters that are irrelevent to God's mission for me in the present circumstances. Thoughts of the future may cross my mind, but they shouldn't occupy time and energy that I should be using for the here and now.

  6. You see Liz, if I start concentrating on here and now - I will go crazy! I mean, here and now stinks! I often live in a dream of something better happening to me. Don't we all? I often fly in my dreams at night. I think it's my mind's response to my day-dreaming about better things yet to come. I often talk to/with myself about something that is not yet part of my life. Usually, it is something good. It helps me keep my sanity and cope with a day to day routine.

    Does it make sense?

    PS To keep my sanity I started making wallpapers and post them on my site:

    So therapeutic, I tell ya! For you, it is probably keeping this blog. And other good things.

  7. Vitali, there is a difference between hope and fantasy. I like to day-dream too, but then it's depressing when I realize that it will never actually come true, it's just in my head. Maybe it is momentarily "therapeutic," but can cause damage in the future.

    As for the blog, I suppose it is therapeutic in some ways, but I normally filter what I write so that it can be useful for other people and not just me. If I just wanted to write about my problems, I could use a private diary.

    I also try to remind myself that virtual friendships are limited. I like to correspond with people in writing, but sometimes I feel empty after being on the Internet and wish that I had real-life fellowship at that moment-or, more importantly, that I had spent more time with God rather than trying to solve all my problems online.

  8. It's just a religious talk. Hope, fantasy... What's the difference? I left any religion, including Christian, a few years back. In religious circles, people tend to be so superstitious. Have you noticed that?

    What do you exactly mean by "spend more time with God?" Is it something you learned at the Sunday school, or do you really think that when you have your Bible open and as you are sitting there reading it and meditating on it, God somehow is standing next to you, listening? I mean, it can be true, but I don't think He works on anyone's schedule (the last time I checked).

    You know, I have been a Christian for over 15 years now. When I first came to know the Lord, I thought I figured it all out. Now, I realize that I know nothing (or very little). I do not know who God is (and I believe none of us do). I think there's no explanation to almost anything on this earth in the light of the Bible, not because the Bible is wrong, but because the human race has fallen (including Christians) far away from God. And we really do not know how to get back to Him. We will only get back to Him after death. On this side, all that talk about "meeting God in person" or "having personal relationship with Jesus" is nothing but a talk.

    God wants none of that. He wants us to obey Him, His commandments and believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world, and spread that News around. That's pretty much it.

  9. Liz,
    Thank for you for a very well expressed reflection. It hit a very deep "point of recognition" in me.
    I should go now to processing the thoughts and feelings it stirred up and actually post this comment.

  10. Masha, if you do have any additional thoughts, please share! :)

  11. Vitali, I find your comment to include loaded language as well. What do you mean by "religious circles"? Are you assuming that the church I attend and the people there are of a certain type?

    You can interpret "spend time with God" as you wish. The better I get to know His word, the better I'm able to discern His will for my life. Of course God is with me throughout the day, but it's pretty hard to know His word if I don't sit down and read it.

    To get back to the topic, when I'm worrying about a future circumstance, I can find comfort either in a fantasy, which has no certainty, or in God's word, which never fails.

  12. I do not especially notice that people in religious circles are superstitious....quite the reverse. Perhaps what you mean is that some of the less thoughtful people who call themselves religious, may sometimes mix up faith and superstition. Well, sometimes I think that some evangelists tend to do that...prosperity doctrine, and all... But, in my view, deeply religious people are not superstitious at all, in fact, try very hard to see that all is in God's hands...and to be humble and accepting, understanding that much of the time we can only have control over our own attitudes.

    By "spending more time with God" I would mean (not to speak for Liz, of course) that I am trying to be aware of God's presence within myself, within others, and that truly "In Him I live and move and have my being." We sometimes use a sort of "reverse" thinking and language. We are only "spending more time with God" in that we REALIZE we are with God (He is always with us). We say we "bless" something or "say the blessing", in that we only REALIZE that such and such IS a blessing. It isn't a blessing because we make it so through prayer, but only because we REALIZE our blessing through prayer.

    Of course another, more prosaic, way of looking at it is the same way we would consider time spent with a colleague or spouse. We might be "with" the person for hours a day, but not giving one another much attention. Special time must be set aside to nurture the relationship outside of the ordinary time spent together.

    Vitali, you remind me of St. Thomas Aquinas - one of the greatest thinkers and theologians of all times, who after a life time of writing brilliantly about God on his deathbed received such a vision of God that he realized that he had up until then, known comparatively nothing.

  13. Annie, it's flattering to hear that I remind you of St. Thomas Aquinas. I wish my former pastor(s) had the same opinion about me :-)

  14. Liz said:

    "To get back to the topic, when I'm worrying about a future circumstance, I can find comfort either in a fantasy, which has no certainty, or in God's word, which never fails."

    I would not disagree with that. But still, fantasizing is a good thing. 99% of the things I have fantasized about over the years (in both spiritual and mundane matters) have come to pass.

  15. Annie, thank you for the insightful comments on spending time with God! Well said.

    Vitali, I think we are still not clear on fantasy. By fantasy I mean something that comes from one's own imagination and not from God. In short, it is a lie. If one of these lies has come true in your life, that is not a guarantee that the others will come true as well. If you want to put your trust in a lie rather than in God, that's your choice. Or maybe I misunderstood?


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