“If Only” — The Two Little Words That Lead to Discontent and Misery

if only

My son was thrilled when, on his birthday, he got the gift he had been wishing for for quite some time: an IPod Touch!  He had great and exciting plans for how he was going to use it.  Being able to play a certain game called Minecraft was one of the most phenomenal aspects of owning his own device. The expression on his face was priceless when he opened his gift!! He was ecstatic!

A couple of days later, he crawled up on my bed and let out a heavy sigh.  “Mom,” he said, “I wish I had never gotten an IPod.”  Why the quick change in attitude?  You see, when we gave him the gift, we also clearly explained our expectations surrounding how he was to take care of it, the limitations relating to how long and when he could play it, and where he could take it.  This is most certainly not what he had in mind, and because our expectations were so very different from his, he was terribly unhappy.  He went on to say, ” IF ONLY there were no limits and I could have it whenever and however I want it. IF ONLY you and dad hadn’t given me rules I have to follow.  IF ONLY I could keep it in my room.”  His enchantment had turned to discontent and he was miserable.

I’m gonna be honest — I was furious with him.  Did he realize how lucky he was to get such a nice gift?  Did he understand it was a financial sacrifice on our part to buy it for him? Did he think about the little children all over the world who don’t have FOOD, let alone a super nice electronic device!  I did my best to capture the moment as a teaching opportunity, said my peace, and sent him to bed. (I didn’t pull out the “children are starving in Africa” card, but I was thinking it!) Much later, when listening to a Tim Keller sermon, I was convicted.  Oh my heavens, that’s me!!!  So much of my discontent, misery, and frankly my sin, begins with the two little words:


For years my family of 6 (and all our animals!) lived in a tiny house.  If I said it once, I said it a thousand times … “IF ONLY I had a bigger house!  Everything would be better.  I prayed and begged and did everything in my power to get us into a position where we could buy and move into a bigger house.  Well, guess what? Finally, we moved.  We have a beautiful, much larger home that has provided us much needed space; a huge backyard in which my children run and play for hours and hours, great neighbors, and we’re down the street from my parents, who provide free babysitting.  I mean, seriously, it’s been an awesome blessing! Well, you know what I said about 2 months after we moved in?!?! This house is awfully big to have to clean by myself.  I’m exhausted trying to keep up.  IF ONLY we had the money to hire someone to come and help me!!!!

Isn’t this exactly what the Israelites did? They were in slavery in Egypt for some 400 years.  They were terribly mistreated. Their children were killed.  They were told to make bricks without straw.  They begged God for freedom.  And God heard their cry and miraculously brought them out of slavery. Fast forward just a little bit of time and in Numbers 11 we find them in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.  God has been providing for their needs guiding them with cloud by day and fire by night.  He has been feeding them with manna.  They have not gone hungry, even for one day.  Yet they cry out and say,

“IF ONLY we had meat to eat.  

Remember the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic?” (11:4b-5)

These people had been rescued from slavery.  Some had been rescued from death.  Literal death. They saw the amazing things God had done to free them.  They experienced the truth of His Word when he said, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today … The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent” (Exodus 14:13a, 14).   They saw the Red Sea part and then close back on top of the Egyptians, forever thwarting their attempt to capture God’s people.  And now they are complaining because they don’t have meat to eat?????

So often, at the root of my frustration, anxiety, moodiness, anger, etc. are the words IF ONLY.  

IF ONLY we had a bigger house

IF ONLY we had more money

IF ONLY my children would behave better

IF ONLY my husband wouldn’t act a certain way

IF ONLY I was skinnier

IF ONLY I had better health

IF ONLY that person would see things from my perspective


Reality is, these two tiny little words are sin. It’s a sin that quietly creeps into my heart, quickly penetrating each and every area of my life.  It feeds my anxiety, my anger.  It leads to discontent.  It leads to misery.  It breaks intimacy. At my core, when I’m saying these words, I don’t trust that God is in control.  That He is “working all things together for my good” (Romans 8:28a).  That through every circumstance in my life He is molding me and shaping me more into the image of Christ.  That He is “orchestrating the universe for my joy” (David Kizziah).

When the words IF ONLY invade my thoughts, I do not have a heart of gratitude.  I am focused on me.  I have lost sight of my First Love.  I have forgotten, even if just momentarily, that this life is not about me.  It’s about a God who saved me.  Not because of anything good I had done (after all, I was DEAD in my sin!), but because of His relentless, unstoppable, never-ending love for me (Ephesians 2: 1-9).

It’s all about You, Jesus

And all this is for You

For Your glory and Your fame

It’s not about me — as if you should do things my way

You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways.

(“Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Paul Oakley (c)1995 Thankyou Music)

When this is my heart’s cry, there is a joy that overwhelms all of the “if onlys”.  In this place of surrender, I am able to grasp who God is, what He has done, and what He is doing for me.  From this realization there is gratitude.  And in gratitude, there is great peace.  What “if onlys” do you sense God calling you to surrender today?

Anchored in Christ,


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Carrie loves all things chocolate, deep conversations, and a long run with a good friend. There is never a dull moment in the home she shares with her hubby, four kids, and four pets! In addition to homeschooling her kids, she is the worship leader at her church. She is so thankful that God has been chasing her with His love all of the days of her life and that He finds her brokenness beautiful. Carrie's heart is to encourage others to find wholeness, healing, peace, and joy in Christ alone.

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