“If only…” I suppose many of us could finish that sentence with a sad, angry or regretful story. The truth is most of us have a lifetime full of “what ifs”. As we mull over the circumstances it still doesn’t change what happened. As a matter of fact, living in the world of “what if” is living in a world where God does not even exist.
We live with regrets because we think we should. We think it is the right thing to do, that it is our duty as a sinner before God. It is as if we think we deserve the pain of living with regret.
Living in a world of “what if” is a universal problem. I have sat in my office and heard hundreds of stories that began with “what if” or “if only”. As I speak in churches in North America and in foreign countries, I hear the same ole phrase…”If only this did not happen my life and circumstances would have been different.”
Yes, it is true that events change the course of our life and we need to learn from our mistakes. However, God never intended for us to live in a state of daily regret, as if having a sense of constant regret is some sort of penance we deserve. But the answer is found in dealing with “WHAT IS”!
How often we forget that as a committed follower of Christ we are under the watch care and authority of a sovereign God. God does not work in some fantasy world of “if only” but in the concrete world of what is. Malcolm Smith says, “The fact is, no one knows what might have been. All we do know is that the infinitely good God will take the mistake and turn it for good.”
Guyon writes: “Remember you must never blame man for anything. No matter what happens, it was neither man nor circumstances that brought it. You must accept everything, (except, of course, you own sinfulness), as having come from the Lord.”
The ‘what ifs’ of our life become the foundation blocks that build Christ-like character. Wisdom teaches us that what might have been isn’t – so we must embrace what life is now.
I am reminded of the passage of Scripture in Proverbs 23:7; “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.” We are what we set our mind upon. If we continually languish in the world of “what if”, then the cloud of what “could have been” will keep us from moving on in life. We become stuck in the mud of regret and the world of “what if.”
Face it; you can’t take back the words you said. You can’t redo a marriage that ended in a nasty divorce. You can’t reclaim that missed opportunity or get back the failed investment. But you can see God in the failure – but only if you let go of the past.
“But this one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 3:13-14 NAS)
Somehow I believe that when Paul wrote this verse in Philippians he was thinking of the time he held Stephen’s coat while he cheered on the crowd that was stoning him. Don’t you think that he had replayed that event over and over in his mind, and thought, “what if” I had not been in that town on that day?” But somehow, by God’s grace and forgiveness he was able to lay down the “what ifs” of the past and focus on the prize of knowing and serving Christ.
Or what about Peter when Jesus and his family needed him the most, he ran, he lied that he knew Him and he denied he was a disciple? Do you think Peter also had regrets? Yes, I am sure he did, but he was able to receive Jesus’ forgiveness and become an example of graceful suffering.
Are you holding on to some personal “what ifs”? If so, let it go, and lay it at the foot of the cross, receive God forgiveness, and ask Him to take your regrets and turn them in to a fruitful future.