Recently, we cleaned out the garage and moved boxes up to the attic. I was tasked with sorting through them. I got sidetracked with a box of photo albums from the old days when we actually got pictures developed instead of just scrolling through Instagram. I thumbed through yellowed photos pasted into faux leather albums, remembering.
I’m often nostalgic for the past. I’ll think back to the times when life seemed more full of possibilities and less full of lived experiences. I’ll remember what used to be — before kids or marriage or sickness, before the mundane weariness of days where I am neither a world changer nor crisscrossing the globe as I’d once hoped. I didn’t accomplish half the things I dreamed of when I was the girl in the picture, tanned and smiling into the sunshine, unaware of what the next thirty years would hold.
Instead, I am a wife and a mother — someone who defrosts chicken for dinner and pays the mortgage. Someone who lathers on sunscreen because instead of that tanned girl in the picture, she now has wrinkles and age spots and skin cancer to consider. Someone who adds ground beef and paper towels to the grocery list and wakes up every day to do it all again.
Or I am a woman who pines for the future. Everything will be different once school starts so we have routine, once school is out for summer so I can rest, once I finish this to-do list, once I have more money or time or sleep, once I get well.
Some days, I have nothing but sorrow for what used to be or what might have been or what could be, if only.
Where is the balance between holy discontent and the desire to live a fuller, more robust faith? The kind of itchy passion that stirs things up and leaves us hungry and desiring more beauty, more wonder, more of Christ in our everyday? And the siren song that woos us with promises that our life would be so much fuller if only things weren’t so ordinary, so hard, so unspectacularly not what we had hoped for?
Sometimes I get stuck in the flux of that timeline, and I lose my place entirely. I wish I were as certain about things as I was in my twenties when everything seemed black and white and I dealt with the blows life dealt with a surety that the right faith and the proper theology could deflect. If I followed the rules, I’d pass go and collect $200. But I landed in the wrong spots again and again. I don’t really wish to play that game again because those were the years when I was so sure of myself, of my mind, of my own strength and abilities, of my turn to win, and so very unsure of God.
I was going to change the world, but really it’s me that needs changing.
I’m confronted by the discontented soul of now. I want to unhinge the call to be content from my everyday and latch it onto better times, either to come or long past.
I don’t want the uncertainty of unanswerable things, of perseverance, of faithfulness to a present-day where I must abide — often with no solutions, often with no answers.
We wish for mountain-moving faith when instead we are an immovable stone, unwilling to be broken — because tumors grow, mouths go hungry, wailing children get ripped from their mother’s arms and replay in sound bites on the news, marriages fall apart, prodigals don’t return. Right now is hard.
But we prayed, Lord! And what do we do with faith when the answer doesn’t come back down the line from heaven with a resounding “As you have asked, it will be done”?
My faith’s been small, the kind that sits in the backseat not making a scene, the kind of faith that doesn’t want to be presumptuous. But these years, I’ve prayed with grasping hands and learned that the faith God builds happens now.
And that may be one of the hardest things of all. Because our obedience will always be more important than our effectiveness, and yet that’s not what we crave. It’s certainly not what I had hoped for all those years ago when I asked God to take my life and make it His. And yet, our lives being His requires that relentless release — not my will but Yours.
My day-to-day opportunity is to bear witness to God — right where I’m at, no matter what’s happening. Full stop.
All I have is now. What has God tasked me with for today? What thanks can I give? What beauty can I behold? What grace can I share? What prayers can I pray? What injustice can I right? What forgiveness must I ask? What bitterness must I confess? What joy can I feel? What sorrow can I cast on Him? What faithfulness rests in my now with laundry to be done, bills to pay, and floors to mop? What is God’s strength when my kids have needs more than I can meet? How do I abide?
I’m letting go of “if only” and clinging to “What now, Lord?”
This article was originally written by Alia Joy for (in)courage in August 2019.
Elizabeth (Betsy) Hall says
I, too long for past days of good health and happy conquering times. As I have aged–I am 61 now, I have learned from the past.
Through illness that is chronic, divorce, the death of my steadfast supportive Christian parents, living with my oldest son and his family with little ones running around and reflecting on my own sons younger days and oh, so many things. I have come to see that like Paul contentment is where you are when you have walked a long time with Christ. He takes you places you never thought of going and did not want to go, yet those places where where you really met Christ – in his fullness and there you abide.
Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Your last sentence is so meaningful. Though I am finding it hard to meet Jesus in my struggles, your sentiments give me hope.
Ruth Mills says
“…because our obedience will always be more important than our effectiveness…” My paycheck job is marked by how effective I am & I’ve translated that measure to my housekeeping & homemaking. How much more calm simply pursuing obedience will make things! Jesus will shine brighter & my effectiveness will have spiritual & eternity consequences attached! Thank you for tweaking my perspective of “working until the Lord” this AM! Blessings!
I felt as if those words were coming from me. I think back on those dreams and how determined I was and then what I actually did accomplish. The “if only” needs to disappear from my language. what now, Lord- indeed!
Kellie Johnson says
How timely to so many. The YouVersion verse of the day is “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:34 MSG. “All I have is now. What has God tasked me with for today?” My morning quiet time reminded me that I need to rest. Perhaps because my mind travels too much to the what if’s. Thank you for this today.
This word was so timely for me today. Thank you so much for sharing!
As I am reading through this & pondering the “what if”, my baby sister is in the hospital after having a stroke.
I’ve pondered a lot of “what if’s.” What if we had talked more, been less judgmental, shared more of Jesus with
her, supported her more as a single mom, etc. on and on it goes. And the Holy Spirit whispers, ” I will tell you
what to to from here, just listen & obey.”
I choose to obey!
Christina Vingerud says
This definitely was a gentle reminder to check into my thoughts. I feel like this last year I have been stuck in “if only”, barely walking the line of discontentment and hope for the future. This was so good for me to hear and reflect on!
Beth Williams says
I often get stuck in the “if only” trap. If only we hadn’t moved so much-didn’t really have to. Perhaps if I hadn’t taken certain classes or took others in HS. We can’t change what is. We just need to be like Jesus & release our will to His. God through the Holy Spirit will guide our lives. He just asks us to obey His commands. When I pray for things I always add not my will but yours be done dear Jesus. For He knows what’s best for us. He sees what lies ahead. Praying we can all learn to be content with where we are in life & be obedient to His will.
Michele Morin says
I have missed Alia’s voice here…
Me too Michelle.
Brenda M. Russell says
Wow, I am so thankful for this story. I am not always brave enough to say this out loud myself but I know I have felt this way so many times. How do I confess this to myself and then to others, especially my three daughters. I don’t have it altogether and I don’t have all the answers or all the funds I need to help my children.
I can relate to being stronger in my 20’s and 30’s but now I am 63 years wise and my husband acts like he is my father and I don’t like it. I can make some decisions without a lecture and I don’t like the same things that he likes, we are different and that’s alright. Even my children are different from me and my mother also. God wired all of us His own way, embrace it and ask God for wisdom to accept yourself.
Oh, the days are different now before the Pandemic, during the Pandemic and now waiting to see what will happen next with public healthcare. I know I pray with much more sincerity for myself and others, especially my mother and children. My prayer for my husband is special with compassion and kindness because that’s what I need in our marriage myself. I give what I need and I wait for my Harvest.
I know God has a plan for my life and His timing is impeccable. I keep standing on His promises, principles and precepts. My patience is not where it should be but I am determined never to give up because God is faithful and true.
Enjoy your day.
Praying for you Brenda. Praying you will experience and enjoy testimonies of God’s power in your life and in your marriage. Nothing is impossible with God, no situation so big that He cannot change.
Sending you a big hug!
Omigoodness…..all of the yes.
Donna C Ahlberg says
wow! you get me! Thank you
Thank you for this it meant and means so much
Just what i needed! thank you!!!