How often have we made this or some similar expression? Too many Christians spend their lives living in the past, anguishing about what they should have done in various situations. “If only” we had not made some of the unwise decisions in the past. “If only” I had not bought that tractor. “If only” I had expressed my true feelings to the boss. “If only” I had not ignored that detour. “If only” I had taken notice of the speed limit sign. “If only” I had not uttered those spiteful words. “If only” I had not taken that first swallow of alcohol. “If only” I had not smoked that first cigarette.
On a personal level, we recently drove past a small farm in Pennsylvania that we had tried to buy at a foreclosure sale when we lived at Fleetwood. We did not have enough time to get our financing in order after we found out about it. We could have said, “If only” we had found out about it sooner. “If only” we had somehow gotten our financing in order. Some years later it was sold again for several times the price it had brought at the foreclosure sale. “If only” we had owned it when we wanted to move to Missouri, we could have sold it and had more funds to get started in Missouri! No amount of “if onlys” will change anything in the past.
Wallowing in this sea of regret is a serious emotional and spiritual drain. To get out of that sea of regret, eliminate those two words, “if only,” from your vocabulary. Much easier said than done, but with God’s help it can be done. Substitute the words, “next time” and tell yourself, “Next time” I’m going to pray about it first, and not be so hasty in buying a tractor. “Next time” I will take notice of the speed limit. “Next time” when liberty is given to have the opening, I am going to respond. “Next time” I will not take a chance and get stuck in a snowbank. The list could go on and on.
Practice this until it becomes a habit. When you find yourself rehashing past errors again, simply tell the Lord, “Next time” I am going to pray about it first. You’ll find this closes the door on the matter, freeing you to devote your time and your thoughts to the present and the future instead of the past.
Another way of saying “if only” is dwelling on what might have been if we would have done things differently. Learn from your mistakes instead of wallowing in them. With the Lord’s help, say “next time” it will be different.
If we run into serious financial difficulties, the “if only” statement is often uttered. The way out of financial trouble is not to keep blaming yourself for the financial quagmire you got into. Rather (with some brethren’s counsel), ask, “What is my situation today and what steps will help me out of the situation?” Do not say “if only” I had. But ask, “What can I do to get out of it?” It is amazing how quickly one can get back on solid financial footing if we follow the advice given to us, and by prayer. I have been there. And don’t say, “If only” I had taken the necessary steps sooner.
May we not have to utter these very sorrowful words upon being rejected at heaven’s door. “If only, if only, if only!” A way is provided for the soul to stay out of hell. No way is provided for the soul to get out of hell.
From Messenger of Truth, 2011, No. 16