If Only …

I once read an article that blamed the plague of modern discontent on the internet. Facebook flaunts vacationing friends sailing the Caribbean, or their “perfect” kids topping the honor roll, or we drool over the mansions of the rich and famous. And our hearts whisper, “If only….”

Others argue that it is advertising that supercharges our unhappiness:

Marketers have turned television into an instrument of dissatisfaction. The shows bring an idealized, expensive world into the homes of people who can’t afford it. And the ads remind everyone that their lives are incomplete and unhappy—unless …. (Seth Godin)

It’s not that everything in our lives is bad (after all, we live in the safest, healthiest, and most prosperous time in history); we just wish our environment could be a smidgeon better:

  • If only I could lose twenty pounds.
  • If only I could work thirty-five hours a week instead of forty-five;
  • If only my husband listened more, or my wife was better looking (or I was better looking).

While the internet and advertisers intensify our discontent, Scripture says the human heart has an almost unlimited capacity to pin our hopes on the tiniest of changes in circumstances. As one spiritual writer put it:

The terrible fallacy of the last hundred years has been to think that all a person’s troubles are due to his environment. That is a tragic fallacy. It overlooks the fact that it was precisely in Paradise that mankind fell. (Martyn Lloyd Jones)

Our “If Only’s” Won’t Satisfy

Cynthia Hymel lived in New York in the 1970s. She knew actors while they were still bussing tables and driving cabs, but she also knew them after they became famous. She wrote:

I pity celebrities. No I really do. Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Barbara Streisand were once perfectly pleasant human beings. But now their wrath is awful.

You see, Sly, Bruce and Barbara wanted fame. They worked, they pushed, and the morning after each of them became famous, they wanted to take an overdose. Because that giant thing they were striving for, that something that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and happiness, had happened.

And they were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable. (The Village Voice, January 2, 1990)

Even the world knows that we are the worst judges of our deepest needs. The “If only’s” of our hearts deceive us. Sure, they may satisfy for a week or a month, but soon another “If only” will raise its hoary head, and roar, and turn us howling and insufferable.

We Need Something Else

Hidden in Cynthia Hymel’s article was this little line:

I think when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you, he grants you your deepest wish and giggles merrily when you realize you want to kill yourself.

But the real God says to us, “I am not going to play that rotten joke on you.” It is precisely his mercy that withholds so many of our “If only” pleas. He knows our frame. He knows what Augustine proclaimed:

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”


P. S. For many believers, our spiritual lives also seem unsatisfying. We ask, “Is this all there is?” God says that true, abundant, fulfilling, eternal life can be found: It is simply in knowing Him (John 17:3).

God made us to hear his voice, and in hearing His voice, we come to know him and find that overflowingly rich life. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation. Because there is more for us all:

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What do YOU think?

6 thoughts on “If Only …

  1. Hi Sam,

    My challenge with engaging this topic is that it too often leads me to be defeatist. If no change in circumstance will make much of a difference, then why try to make any positive change? I have seen myself tend to remain in unhealthy situations using this logic, which I understand is flawed but in a way I have trouble identifying. Do you have any insights?


    • I’ve struggled with thinking along these same lines. What I have realized (and am still learning) is that only God will satisfy my deepest desire. But once I am vitally connected with him as the source of all life, all those other smaller things fall into their proper place on the priority list, and I can begin to work with him on them.

      So, Jesus loves me whether I am overweight or not. I needn’t worry about losing weight to feel better about myself or to have more peace or anything else like that — none of that will work. But once I am resting and secure in Christ, I *can* tackle taking off a few (or more!) pounds, because I will feel better physically if I am not overweight.

      I’m also a big believer in “one thing at a time.” I ask the Spirit what area of my life he’d like us to work on together next. Rarely do I hear about more than one at a time. One is more than enough!

      Of course, none of this works if we aren’t secure in our identity in Christ. That is primary to all else.

      So glad to be on the journey with you!

      – Jeff

      • Hi Jeff,

        As you say in your closing line: “none of this works if we aren’t secure in our identity in Christ. That is primary to all else.”

        Maybe that is the question we need to continue to ask ourselves: Am I doing this thing (or NOT doing this thing) out of the Love of God in my heart, or am I doing it to earn that love?


    • HI Sarah,

      Terrific question. You’re hitting on a very important tension in Christianity. For example, some of us act in “righteous” ways out of legalism (trying to earn the love of God by doing good) while others say, “Hey, if God loves me no matter what, why can’t I sleep with my girlfriend?” God has a third way, which is when he changes our hearts to want to obey because of “the Love he has poured into our hearts.”

      We all need motivation for right actions: if I’m tempted to oppress my employees, I need every help I can get (even if it’s just, “God hates those who oppress the weak and needy.” Although I hope, over time, God changes my heart to love the weak and needy just because HE loves the weak and needy.

      I think we need to continue to act rightly and use every motivation available. But at the same time, continue to ask God to purify our hearts.

      And part of that purification is self-examination: am I pursuing this “if only” because I think it will satisfy the deepest longings of my heart? Well, Scripture says only God can fill that hole.

      Some people are by nature “doers” and God often has to ask them to wait (just look at Abraham and Ishmael); and some of us are naturally passive, and God has to tell us “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”

      Fortunately for us, God is always at work, nurturing the Fruit of His Spirit in us; making us into gems for his crown.

      Thanks for your tough question!


  2. Yap.It is focusing on the earthly and fleshly things that make us always crave for more.There is peace only in Christ.Peace is one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost in us.But it only prevails if we let it- if we set our eyes on Christ. It does not mean we should stop working and live in a convent.No, this means we should be Christ-like wherever we are. It also doea not mean we should not have any dreams. It means God has to come before everything and we should not be consumed by them. We should continually test if we are willing to let things go.If God is our first. Take for example Job.He lost everything and still did He not sin against Him. And take Abraham.He wanted a son.He got one and still he was obedient to God and was ready to sacrifice him when God asked him to…….I have found in my experience that if i set my eyes on God, I am blessed in so many ways and things just wonderfully happen…I really experience “He makes all your paths straight” on a daily basis! I also get tests- when He allows something uncomfortable.but here I have learned that if I make the right decisions in the midst of it, then He brings me out of the situation unharmed.I am really His fan! We are do lucky to have the best Father of all😊

    • Hi Chris,

      I think God is inviting us to learn perfect contentment in him, in the storms as well as in the sunshine. It’s a command, yes, but maybe more important, it is an invitation.

      God is saying that there is such a relationship with him that we can find satisfaction in that alone. And that is what we are to pursue.