In each season of my life, I’ve found myself falling into two mental traps which are not helpful. One is the “If only” syndrome, and the other is the “What if?” syndrome.
Here’s how “If only” might express itself:
- “If only I had a husband.”
- “If only I had more money.”
- “If only my husband would act like…”
- “If only my husband (or I) had a good job.”
- “If only we had a different house.”
- “If only my parents (or his) understood.”
- “If only my child would sleep through the night.”
- “If only I had a really close friend.”
- “If only I didn’t come from such a wounded past.”
- “If only I wasn’t stuck in this place.”
- “If only I was free of this disease.”
- “If only I knew how to handle my teen.”
- “If only I didn’t have to do this.”
- “If only I didn’t struggle with this.”
Can you identify? You can probably add to this list yourself. Over the years I’ve realized that these thoughts merely lead me into a real case of self-pity. At the core of what I’m expressing is: “Life is about me and my happiness.” I have a bucket that needs to be filled.
But the reality is that even if the desire for one “If only” is met, I’ll just have another one to add to the list. Too often I get myself into this mindset without even realizing it. And it sinks me into a bad mood or a feeling of being depressed. The focus is on me, and I need to confess this selfishness and ask God to forgive me and to enable me to focus on Him and on others. And I need to ask Him to give me a grateful heart.
The other trap is “What if?”:
- “What if I can’t get pregnant?”
- “What if my husband leaves me?”
- “What if I don’t get this raise?”
- “What if I can’t complete this project?”
- “What if we lose the election?”
- “What if the medical tests bring bad news?”
- “What if my child doesn’t make the team?”
- “What if I fail?”
This mindset leads to fear. I am afraid of what will happen if the “What if” comes true. And this can be a paralyzing fear.
The “What if" syndrome is especially hard for those of us with an overactive imagination—we are often visionaries; we are creative. We tend to have this weakness, however: We can create the worst-case scenario in our imagination in three seconds flat! It can be terrifying.
What's at the core of this attitude? I fail to believe that God is in control. My “What if” has become bigger than my God. I have temporarily forgotten that He is loving, He is kind, He is present, He is good, and He will never, ever forsake me.
I can give Him my “What if”—He can handle it. He will sustain me.
Underlying the “If only” and “What if” syndromes is an expectation that our lives should be completely satisfying. We may recognize that’s not realistic, but too often we live with that expectation in our thought life without even realizing it.
We need to remember that, in this life, our bucket will always have holes. Life will not be perfect until we get to heaven. Eternal life in heaven will be a perfect bucket with no holes completely filled with the love of Christ and satisfaction—no wants or fears, just sweet fellowship with Jesus and those who have gone before us.
Today, what is your “If only…”? What is your “What if”?
Recognize the subtle danger of these thoughts, which produce self-pity and fear. Make a conscious decision to dump them someplace (down the garbage disposal, in the trash, or fireplace).
Begin to say His traits out loud: “You are my Father, You go before me. You prepare a way for me. You protect me. You bless me. You understand me. You forgive me. You know me better than I know myself and you love me totally, completely, perfectly. No matter what happens You are still in charge. You will never forsake me.”
This puts your focus on God, where it belongs.
Copyright © 2015 by Susan Yates. Used with permission. This article originally appeared on MomLife Today®, FamilyLife's blog for moms.
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