Have made-up phrases ever “stuck” in your family lexicon—perhaps a toddler’s charming mispronunciation or a nickname that began as a private joke? Well, I’m not sure whether to credit the barrage of discouraging news reports or the challenges of advancing age, but here’s the concocted idiom that’s been getting decent mileage lately at my house: “I’m drinking from the whatever cup.”
Shorthand for “I give up any delusions of being in charge and instead surrender to God’s plan,” the expression originated from my favorite ceramic mug—the one I discarded after noticing a large chip above the single word adorning it: “whatever.” The same mug I rescued from the trash moments later when I realized it had become a fitting symbol of its own message.
Eventually that cup took on additional meaning, as a tribute to my late husband. In the final weeks of his illness, Elliot grew far more accepting of medical mishaps and disappointments than the rest of us were. Grieving each new letdown, the kids and I chafed at unnecessary discomforts and inconveniences, insulted on his behalf. But Elliot, amazingly, took it all in stride. He even developed a swooping hand motion—Dad’s “whatever,” we called it—as a way of encouraging us to go with the unpleasant flow, too.
In the final weeks of his illness, Elliot grew far more accepting of medical mishaps and disappointments than the rest of us were.
That semi-amusing little gesture spoke loudly of Elliot’s confident submission to God’s plan, and the effect was contagious. I mean, if the patient himself could dismiss each setback with a wave of the hand, shouldn’t the rest of the family at least try? So Dad’s “whatever” got imbedded in our vocabulary as well, and it sure could preach. Gradually, we discovered that, like Elliot, we were better able to navigate the increasingly rough waters. Not that we liked or approved of anything related to cancer, pain, or the grief barreling our way. But it was somehow helpful to acknowledge that matters were beyond our control. For one thing, I suppose it may have testified to others. More concretely, though, we ourselves were reminded about trusting God in everything, including catastrophic loss.
Acceptance doesn’t change the circumstances but is a far healthier approach than resistance, which can actually intensify our experience of pain. I once heard bereavement compared to standing waist-deep in the ocean as an eight-foot wave approaches. While instinct tells us to brace against the impact, planting a foot deep in the sand increases the chance of breaking a leg. The other option is to go limp and be tossed about as the wave rolls past. We might feel out of control but are less likely to sustain serious injury. Acceptance is a way of going limp, falling trustfully into the arms of our all-wise, all-powerful, loving Father. While not necessarily a comfortable place to be, it’s certainly the safest.
Acceptance doesn’t change the circumstances but is a far healthier approach than resistance.
But “whatever” is more than simply a helpful attitude during trials. It’s also a tool for accessing the peace we crave at those unsettling times—a.k.a. “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Phil. 4:7). In fact, notice the recurring word in the very next verse: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8, emphasis added). In his sermon “When Anxiety Strikes,” Dr. Stanley explains the connection:
“God’s people are to think about the things that are right and good and holy and true and wholesome and honorable and pleasing—the kind of things that Jesus would think about and talk about and dwell upon. Because the truth is, if I don’t pray right, I’m not going to think right. And if I don’t think right, I’m not going to pray right. You can’t separate them. So we have to ask ourselves the question, If we really and truly want peace and contentment in our life, does that mean there’ll be no troubles? No. Does it mean that there won’t be any heartaches? Does it mean that you won’t suffer? No, it doesn’t mean any of that. But it simply means this—that in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, there is a peace that passes all understanding.”
Did you catch that? In whatever circumstance, peace “far more wonderful than the human mind can understand” (Phil. 4:7 TLB). For you and me. Right here, right now—regardless of current events, health concerns, or the storm surge closing in.