Have you ever had a teenager (or an adult acting like one) say to you with a sort of sneer, “Whatever!”? In case you didn’t already know, this is not really an expression of respect. It’s right up there with, “Yeah, well…” or “And I’m supposed to care?” I banned the word from use in our home when my kids were of the “Whatever” age. But that’s not the kind of “whatever” that I lost and then later recovered. There’s another “whatever” of which I speak.
It’s not exactly a particular “day” to which I refer when I got this “whatever” back. It was more of a gradual retrieval than an all-at-once maneuver. In fact I lost it my “whatever” a lot quicker than I found it again. I lost it when grief and pain came suddenly. Until then my life was, by comparison to the billions of people in the world who live on less than $2 a day, fairly easy. I was a healthy baby-boomer, had a beautiful wife for over three decades, two amazing adult children, a respected position as a pastor in a California beach town, and a nice house in an upscale community. It could be said that I was cruisin’! And then within a three-month period I lost all of it (except my kids, thank God!). It was during that time that I also lost my “whatever.”
I didn’t know that had I lost it until I was having a conversation with the Lord, when I must’ve switched into auto-pilot for a moment, and I began to recite what I’d been saying to the Lord for over 35 years: “I’ll do whatever you want me to.” But the sentence didn’t come out. I stopped it from escaping, and my perfunctory prayer got truncated. I said, “I’ll do what…” and then, as I recall, I almost put my hand over my mouth like a dam in front of a river. I realized that I wasn’t willing to make this grandiose promise anymore. I remember saying something like:
“Wait. That’s not true. I’m not going to say that. I used to say I’d do whatever – I’ve said it hundreds, maybe thousands of times over the years, and I meant it every time (as far as I can recall) – but not today. I used to pray the “Whatever Prayer” to you, but it turns out that you didn’t have my back. I’ve always been willing to do whatever you wanted me to, but it seems to me that you didn’t make the same commitment to me. It appears that while I was willing to do whatever it took to do the things that I thought were important to you, you weren’t willing to do for me whatever it took to keep me from losing the things that were important to me. For now, I’m just letting you know that I’m not willing to do “whatever” anymore. At least for now, “whatever” is not part of my prayer vocabulary, and from now on I’m going to be more careful about the promises I make to you.”
Like I said, my “whatever” eventually returned, but it did so more incrementally than it left. I can’t really point to a particular day in which I found it again, sitting like a newspaper on my doorstep. It didn’t return in a “day,” but it took an accumulation of many days, and a process for me to recapture it. (Are you as tired of that word, “process” as I am?) They say, “Time heals all wounds,” but I don’t believe it. I know a lot of people whose wounds have gotten more infected over time. They didn’t heal, but rather got worse as time elapsed. Time doesn’t heal, God does; and he often (not always) takes time to do his healing. But I wonder if the time that it takes is sometimes a mercy; otherwise we might die of the trauma of some of his therapeutic methods. His methods can be painful (sort of like a cross!). There are times when I’ve given God access to my wounds, willing to let him use his stiff wire brush to clean them out! Sometimes he hurts me first (which is different from harming me), and through the hurt he heals me.
I think the core issue of my lost “whatever” was really a loss of trust. I simply didn’t trust God like I had before. He’d let me down (at least from my vantage point at the time) and I wasn’t willing to expose myself unreservedly to him again. “Whatever you want, Lord” was not going to proceed out of my mouth again until at least we got some things straightened out between us.
Over time, many thanks to the God who is willing to suffer long with me, I noticed that my “whatever” began to make a comeback. My losses weren’t exactly reversed, I was starting to learn to live joyfully in spite of them, and my “truster” was beginning to heal. I could tell I was rehabbing when I heard myself pray the “Whatever Prayer” once in a while without balking or stuttering. In the beginning each prayer had a shelf life and a limited scope. They went something like, “Lord, I’ll do whatever you want me to at this event…” – or – “I’ll say whatever you want me to in that conversation with that particular person…” I was cautiously inserting my toe in the water before jumping in. I wasn’t ready to run up any banners or sign any long-term contracts; but I was making headway back to more of an all-encompassing recovery of the “whatever mentality.” Though I can’t recall the day or the method by which I progressed from one stage to another toward a healthier attitude of trust, it dawned on me one day that I was nearing the kind of abandoned confidence in God to which I had been accustomed in the past. Eventually the shelf life increased and the scope of my “Whatever” broadened, until one day I realized I had gotten it back entirely, possibly with an even greater conviction than before.
[Next we’ll scour the Bible for “whatever” references. Stick with me, you might be surprised how often it’s used…]