Why ‘if only’ can be dangerous (and a Milkybar reward)

September 19, 2012 — Leave a comment


“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.” Mercedes Lackey

I’ve started to notice myself use a dangerous expression lately. In fact, it’s quite a common phrase, and one most of us will utter many times a day without realising.

If only.

“If only I hadn’t been made redundant from my last job.”
“If only I was more like that guy.”
“If only I could do this/that/the other better.”

If only.


The reason I think it’s so dangerous to say if only all the time is because it means we forget or intentionally want to reject who we are in God’s eyes.

If I mutter, “If only I could be more like Mr X”, then I’m dismissing the person God made me to be, the child he created for his purposes. Mr X may be incredibly strong and have an excellent ability to lift weights, but he isn’t me. He isn’t who God made me to be. He’s Mr X.

It applies to our communities as well. “If only we had these people involved”, we say. “If only more people came to this.” To say these things is to ignore the people who God has brought to us, the people who God has drawn into our communities to surround us and grow with us.

If only makes us always want more, rather than recognising the blessings already around us.


I get that sometimes, things don’t work out how we expect them to. And I don’t for a minute want to suggest that it’s wrong to be upset when things go pear-shaped, or that we shouldn’t long and pray for greater things.

I didn’t expect to be unemployed this summer. There have definitely been times when I’ve thought, “if only that job had worked out”.

But then I wouldn’t have seen all the things I have this summer. I wouldn’t have been able to spend the time with friends and family that I have, wouldn’t have been able to figure out what my long-term dreams are.

If only doesn’t help me realise my dreams, it only forces me to feel like I’m constantly under-achieving.


So my challenge is to stop myself from saying if only. I’m not quite sure how best to do it yet (I might treat myself to one of these each time I stop myself), but my intention is not so much to lose a phrase as to gain a better and richer recognition of all God has done and is doing in my life.

I’m under no illusions – I’ll probably fail often. But I think it’s worth trying.


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