I wonder, on average, about 5 times a day why any higher power would ever let me reproduce, roughly 12 times a week why any woman would put up with me, somewhere around 4 times
a month what would happen to me if I ever just quit and got a “normal job”, and, more often than I’m willing to admit, what would happen if I could just start over.
I’m not alone. We all play “what if”. We daydream about a perfect life if only we did something different. We look back and imagine what could have been. We build larger and more elaborate fantasy worlds where life is better.
What if I didn’t ever go to seminary? What if we never had kids? What if you weren’t married, or at least weren’t married to him?
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if my life was different because I’ve fallen so short of what a father should be, a husband should do, and a pastor should embody. Sometimes I play because I’m so tired of being hurt that I just want things to be different. Underneath all the excuses and details, the motive to play“what if” is always sin. It’s the sins I commit that make me want to quit since I can’t do it right. It’s the sins that are committed against me that make me want to take my ball and go home because I don’t think I deserve this. All of it hurts. So we escape into our own little worlds we’ve built out of “what ifs”.
The problem with playing “what if” isn’t just spending all day gazing at greener grass on the other side of the fence. I throw rocks at hypothetical hornets’ nests. I stir up angst and envy and jealousy and greed. I rouse discontent. I dwell on sin. The more you dwell on sin, the more you play “what if”, the harder it is to look someone in the eye. Sometimes that someone is your God. Sometimes it’s your spouse, your kids, or your friends. Each time you play it that little voice that you don’t want to acknowledge gets a tiny bit louder.
Just run. Quit. It’s not worth salvaging. It’s too broken to fix. Just run.
Running’s easy. It’s not looking back that’s hard. “What if” can only look back – on sins, on ruin, on what you wish was different. But you can never run so far that you can escape the “what ifs” and start looking forward. If you could just stop looking back, you’d never have been playing “what if” in the first place. “What if” is a deadly game.
Forgiveness means never having to play “what if”. Forgiveness means all those sins that brought pain and regret are gone. Forgiveness means that when you look back, all you see is a cross where Jesus took everything you did, everything you should have done, and everything done to you, and bore them Himself, along with all of the ruin these sins brought. It is finished. You are forgiven.
You don’t need to play “what if” anymore, because there is nothing left to regret. There’s nothing left to run from. Jesus died for all of it. Jesus died for you. You can stop fantasizing about what a perfect life would look like, because God has already declared you perfect and without sin, without fault, without blemish. He meant it.
The shame that you want to erase by playing “what if” has been erased by the cross. The peace that we want to build in a fantasy world has been given by a risen Lord. You can look forward now.
Instead of playing “what if”, make the sign of the cross and remember that you are baptized, that every single day God will drown the old Adam who wishes for something different and daily raise up the new man to live in righteousness and purity forever. Know that you are already baptized into Christ’s resurrection, free of guilt and shame. There’s nothing better to wish for.