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Empty Promise of If Only

I sat in the office of my university advisor, trying to hold back my tears through gritted teeth. “Are you sure there’s no way I can go home early and finish up the year at home?

He frowned and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Lara. Maybe we can work together to figure out a way to make the last part of this year more enjoyable.

I had a little over a month left of my first year at university. The passion I held in my heart when I first arrived had dried up as I fought against anxiety and loneliness. I lacked the desire to go to any of my classes, and avoided interactions with other students as much as possible. All I wanted was to go home and be with my husband-to-be and family. I was tired of battling anxiety each day.

As I walked back to my dorm room, I kept my head low to hide my tears. If only I could find a way home, then I would be rid of this anxiety and I would be happy again.

The Empty Promise of ‘If Only’

In your battle with fear and worry today, what is your ‘If Only’? If only one thing could change in order to give you peace of heart, what would it be?

_ If only I could lose this weight…
_ If only we didn’t have to struggle to make ends meet every month…
_ If only my children would obey me…
_ If only my husband and I could find some common ground again…
_ If only God would bring a best friend into my life…

Many things in life promise us that if we could only reach to attain them, our life would then be worry free. But their promises return empty every single time.

_ You lose the weight, but now you anxiously watch the scale.
_ You build up your emergency fund to a comfortable place, but now you fearfully guard every penny.
_ Your children seem to be growing more outwardly obedient, but now you feel their hearts seem to be growing bitter.
_ You and your husband reach some agreement on long standing issues, but new conflict is unearthed in the process.
_ God brings a wonderful friend into your life, but you soon realize that friendships take a significant investment of time and effort in order to flourish.

The “if only” sounds good at first, but it’s never sufficient. It always fail us. God showed this to Jeremiah about the futility of trusting in people:

“Thus says the LORD:
‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.”
Jeremiah 17:5-6 ESV

God tells Jeremiah that those who choose to trust in man are cursed. This applies to any earthly thing we place our hope in; it will leave us dried up and weary. It will steal every ounce of joy with each, ‘If Only’. Though they promise peace and prosperity, they can only bring dread and disappointment.

The Sufficiency of God

But God does not end there with Jeremiah. He goes on to declare a better place to put our hope:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:7-8 ESV

We can find peace from our constant striving in worry when we trust in God. Unlike temporary, earthly things, He never fails. Paul, who was faced with angry mobs, imprisonment, and hunger, was able to declare, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13 ESV

Your life is not the exception. If you can trust God with the eternal state of your soul, to save you from sin and death, you can also trust Him with your life on earth. Though at times you may face persecution, suffering, or being in need, you can find strength and true peace in God alone. He will strengthen you to endure those difficult seasons. He will be your refuge when the heat of trials blazes down.

Practical Ways to Set Your Hope In God

In the same letter he wrote about being content in Christ, Paul writes how believers can escape the temptation of worry: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 ESV

When we choose to pray about our concerns, God promises that we will find peace in Him. It’s when we cling to our worries instead of entrusting them to the will of God that fear overwhelms us. We know we are insufficient to find the perfect answer to our problems, and that is terrifying. But when we turn to the God who is able and wise to take care of us, then we can find peace in laying our worries before Him.

Continue to grow in your knowledge and affections for God. As you come to understand more about His character and attributes, you will become increasingly aware of how much better He is than the ‘if only’. The ‘if only’ will pale in comparison to the grandeur and power of our God as you learn more about Him.

This is what I faced during my last few weeks in university. I soon realized that going home wasn’t going to bring an end to my anxiety. If I wanted everlasting peace from worry, God taught me through His Word that I had to first place my hope in Him, and Him alone.

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The Empty Promise of If Only | by Lara d'Entremont | The Joyful Life Magazine
  1. This is so good! I so agree! When I was going through a very painful season, I kept thinking, if only this hadn’t happened! If only I had done this or that! Etc. But I remember distinctly the thought coming to me, “Stay in the now….this is NOW….and you only have now….” It was a moment by moment discipline that only God got me through! And He is still working! Thank you for this <3

    1. That is such a great reminder, Dewi! God uses even our suffering for our good, and even though we may want to get out of that suffering as quickly as possible, there is so much that we can learn in the midst of it. Thank you so much for reading my article!

  2. Oh wow, I can so relate … “If only my kids obeyed me,” among others. Love how you referenced this passage in Jeremiah to demonstrate the folly of trusting man and the confidence we have trusting Jesus.

    1. There are so many, “If Onlys” that I have also fallen prey to as well! I have found that passage in Jeremiah to be helpful for me in most of my struggles with fear and anxiety; it’s a good reminder to trust in God rather than the people and things around us. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jenn!

  3. I’m so glad I found this post today! The Lord has been putting this exact message on my heart lately. I am coming to terms with a lot of decisions I have made in life; one of which being to quit school. I’m sick of all of the if only scenarios that I create. The Lord is with me no matter the path my life takes. I’m learning to let go of the what ifs and if onlys and learning to trust the good Lord’s direction for my life and circumstances. Bless you Lara!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Rachel; it’s such an encouragement to my heart! I definitely know the struggle of fighting “What Ifs” and “If Onlys.” I also had to quit school which left me struggle with many of those kinds of questions. I’m so encouraged to see how you are growing and learning to trust God in the midst of that!

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