Last Updated on July 16, 2018

At each season of my life I’ve found myself falling into two traps–mental traps–which are not helpful. One is the “what if” syndrome and the other is the “if only” syndrome.

The “if only” might express itself like this: If only my child would sleep through the night … if only I had more money … if only my husband (or I) had a good job … if only I had a husband … if only we had a different house … if only my parents (or his) understood … 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 my husband would act like if only I didn’t struggle with …

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 my bucket has holes in it and even if the desire for one “if only” is met, I’ll just have another one to add to the bucket. 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 wrongly 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 we lose the election … what if my child rebels … what if I don’t get this raise … what if the medical tests bring bad news … what if my child doesn’t make the team …  what if I can’t complete this project … what if I fail …

This mindset leads to fear. I am afraid of what will happen if the “what if” comes true. And it can be paralyzing fear.

This is especially hard for those of us with an overactive imagination. Often we are visionaries. We are creative. However the weakness is that we can create in our imagination the worst case scenario in three seconds flat! It can be terrifying.

At the core of this wrong attitude is: 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.

Each of these thoughts has the underlying expectation that our lives should be completely satisfying. OK, we 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…”  your “what if…”?

Recognize the subtle danger of these thoughts that produce self pity and fear. Make a conscious decision to dump them someplace (down the garbage disposal, in the trash or fireplace) and focus on Him instead. Begin to say out loud His traits:

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.

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  1. Oh, how I needed this today! Thanks you so much!!!

  2. Me too! I have a recorded message in my head, apparently, that runs these words sometimes. Yes, Susan, focus on the Lord and His grace instead of what if and if only! Thanks!

  3. Oh my! This is such a good nugget of wisdom. I needed this today. I’ve got a precious 8 month old (first time mommy) and I am still adjusting to the reality of going years without a full night’s sleep… I’m one of those especially creative minds that can get caught up in the what if’s and if only’s in a hurry. Thank you for relating, calling out truth and challenging me to refocus my thoughts on Jesus.

    1. Adrienne,
      I found I also really needed this as a first time Mom! You are not alone.
      Love, Susan