The kids were with the grandparents for the night. Which meant we had the perfect opportunity to catch a movie in an actual theater, eat out without cutting the chicken into bite-sized pieces and spend the evening without repeatedly giving instructions to one's progeny about baths and brushing.
Except, the evening didn’t pan out quite like I’d imagined. We watched the movie - and that signalled the end of date night for the husband. In my mind, the movie was supposed to be followed by a nice dinner, and, perhaps, a walk in the moonlight afterward. I had all the details planned out.
Not wanting to appear needy, I pretended I was fine with calling it a night. Except, inside, I stewed.
“If he cherished me as the Bible says he should, he would have wanted to spend more time with me,” I reasoned in my mind. And then, of course, came the swirl of negative thoughts, till I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“If only you had just suggested dinner out. That would have meant so much to me,” I exploded.
The startled man had no idea that between the movie theatre and our home I had built up a story titled, “Exactly What a Loving Husband Should Do,” in my overly inventive mind.
Those two words have the power to plunge us into a vortex of disappointment, comparison, and insecurity.
Sometimes it dwells in past disappointments . . .
“If only I had pursued my career and not given up when the baby came along.”
“If only I hadn’t married him when we were so young.”
“If only I hadn’t taken that stupid student loan.”
If only leaves us in a place of regret, blame and, even, condemnation.
More often, if only hinges on comparison. In a world where lives are curated into hors d’oeuvres of awesomeness on social media, comparisons have become part of our DNA.
We see the #lifeisgood or #blessed pictures and wonder why our own lives are so mundane and inadequate.
“If only we had the money to fly to Hawaii,” we think in response to vacation pictures with its three staple ingredients: tanned legs, swimming pools, and margaritas.
We see the anniversary pictures of wedded bliss and the online tributes to spouses and think, “If only my man would bring me breakfast in bed or know that peonies are my favourite flower.”
We see pictures of kitchen renovations with farmhouse sinks and marble countertops and think, “If only I had a kitchen like that or, maybe, just one more room in my house. That’s not asking for much.”
If only weighs our lives against someone else’s make-believe world on social media. And it steals our joy in the process.
But what if we replaced those two words, if only, with two others? What if the words "even if" helped us focus on something greater?
Those two words – even if - take the emphasis off our circumstances. They shift the focus to the character of God.
In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet pleads for God to save His people. But then he concludes with these words:
Even if the fig tree does not bloom and the vines have no grapes,
even if the olive tree fails to produce
and the fields yield no food,
even if the sheep pen is empty
and the stalls have no cattle—
I will be happy with the Lord.
I will truly find joy in God, who saves me. (Habakkuk 3:17–18)
Even if. Two simple words that teach us that true joy and real contentment is found in God.
Even if I never get to head a company or write a bestseller.
Even if I don't ever dip my feet in the waters of the Caribbean.
Even if I (fill in the blank for yourself)
Even then I will "find joy in God who saves me."
If only can steal our joy, but even if can grow joy to where it’s not based on our circumstances, but on who God is.
The Word of God reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to "give thanks in all circumstances."
No, God doesn’t want us to pretend we’re thankful for those even if moments sprinkled - sometimes in heavy doses - through our lives. While we may not be able to thank God for all circumstances, we can give thanks in all circumstances to God who is still on the throne and walking with us through the hard stuff.
That’s an even if kind of faith.