Henri Nouwen once described them as the two phrases that distract and limit our lives—“if only” and “what if.”
“If only I had done this … or said that.”
“If only” locks us into looking backwards. It fills us with regret. It discourages us. If only we had seen earlier the looming economic meltdown. If only we could take back that hurtful word we spoke. If only we could have another shot at better parenting. If only. If only. It drains us, and falsely assumes that things would have been better “if only.” It’s an illusion and a fantasy that many of us too often choose to live in.
On the other hand, we might also live with a great many “what ifs.”
“What if” drives us to look forward, and it produces fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. What if I get cancer? What if I lose my job? What if the kids don’t get into that school? What if? What if? It, too, drains our energy and saps our spirit. We cannot possibly know what lies around the corner, but we keep wanting to know and to worry about it anyway.
No wonder, then, that the language of God is constantly the language of the present—not the past, not the future. Have you noticed the promise? Jesus declared, “ I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b) Not, “I will be with you always.” Where would that leave us in this moment? Instead, the Bible reinforces over and over that God is not about “what ifs” or “if onlys” but “even nows.”
When Martha grieved over the death of her brother Lazarus she lost perspective for just a moment. “Jesus, if only you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.” (John 11:21) But then, just as quickly she caught herself and declared “Even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, He will give to you.” (John 11:22) Have we made the same adjustment?
How then shall we live? Discouraged by yesterday? Overwhelmed by tomorrow? Or confidently trusting Jesus even now? We can’t change what has been. Nor can we control what will be. All we have at our disposal is our response even now.
May He grant us the grace we need, even now.