The four words, “if only I had” are often said by me, and my guess is by you too. If only we had $100.00 for every time we said those words. Whoops, I said them again! J As we look back over our lives and the many interactions we’ve had with others, we can see how we should have responded. We then tend to rehearse what happened and what could have happened, “if only I had…” How does God’s sovereignty play into these words? How do these words cause us to regret? More importantly, how can God use our regrets for his purposes in our lives? Let’s explore how looking back over our lives can be a good and bad exercise.
Exploring what’s good and bad about looking back
- Looking back can cause us to get stuck in a cycle of regret. The idea is that of a carnival pony who goes around in the same circle over and over again. Parents like this because they know their children will be safe. The truth is these ponies put their feet in the same place as they continue to go around. They don’t escape the circle until someone pulls the reins and directs them out of it. That’s what happens to us. We go over the same thing again and again. This is not really safety for us however, because the product it produces can be anger, worry, depression, or anxiety. For our safety, we need someone to pull on our reins and direct us. Paul does this in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” We must take the reins of our thoughts and turn them upward, rehearsing who God is and what He’s done in our lives. This will keep us from getting stuck in regret.
- Looking back can cause us to blame ourselves for the situation. This happens when we say things like “if only I hadn’t brought the subject up” or “if only I had said this or that” or “if only I had just let her have her way”, etc. We replay conversations over and over until we think the resulting outcome lands fully in our laps. But that’s not the truth in the situation. There are always two sides to a story and we can’t carry someone else’s part. We can only take care of our own. “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” Ezekiel 18:20 The Lord makes it clear here that we carry our own sin. We have to believe the truth of the situation. The “if only I had” is not a true statement. Belief in the truth will keep us from blaming ourselves.
- Looking back can cause us to live life as a victim. Our minds can be so absorbed with the circumstances of disappointment that we begin to see ourselves as a victim. When this happens the victim mentality can become our identity. Our life begins to run through that grid instead of God’s grid. We are unhappy all the time, because if we’re a victim in this situation, we’ll probably be one in the next situation. Life becomes about all the wrong that was ever done to us. Our thinking may be “if only I had stood up for myself”, or “if only that person was not so mean”, or “if only I had told her how I really feel”, etc. When we won’t let the hurt go but continue the blame game, the hurt is raw and will continue to be so. “…This I know that God is for me.” Psalm 56:9b Whatever has happened to us doesn’t take away from the fact that God is for me. I’m not a victim of the things of this world but am victorious. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the word of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 As followers of Christ, we are in Christ and that’s our identity. We need to live in belief of the victory we have in Christ. Living and working for the Lord will keep us from living as a victim.
In the future when you and I say the words, “if only I had”, I hope we will remember these things and look to the Lord for help. So what’s the good about looking back? It gives us the opportunity to trust God with our past and our hurt. We can learn from our past to practice a greater trust in the future. All life is about God and his glory. This is very important for us to remember so that we don’t say, “if only I had been more aware of God.” Let’s change now– looking forward without regret!