Recently I caught myself using those words for about the 100th time in a week. “If only I would’ve…”, “If only I wouldn’t have…”, “If only I had saved more money”, “If only I hadn’t eaten so much last night”. If only things were different. I think about the future in much the same manner. I use different words of course. “What if…”, “What if I lose my job”, “What if it rains”.
There are several passages in scripture that warn us of looking back or looking forward.
Gen. 19:15-17, 26
15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” 16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”
…26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I’m not suggesting that either of these activities are wrong or inappropriate. Looking back at the decisions we have made is an important part of learning – I made this decision. I got this result. Was this what I wanted? Should I do things differently next time? Looking forward at possible outcomes is an important part of being prepared for the future – What can I do to give myself the best chance of a positive outcome?
The point, or at least one of the points, of both scripture passages is that our focus should always be on God. I can only imagine what Lot’s wife was thinking about – maybe about leaving her home and friends, but by looking back, she lost sight of what God was doing in her life right then. We know what Martha was thinking about – all the preparations, but by looking forward, Martha lost sight of the presence of God in her life at that moment. It’s not that looking back or forward is wrong. It’s the fact that they forgot to put God at the center of their lives.
For me the words “If only…” have become a trigger that causes me to stop, refocus, and ask “What does God want me to learn from this situation?” The words “What if…” have become a trigger that causes me to stop, refocus, and ask “Where is God in my planning?”