The if only game

Pastoral Messages | June 2, 2016

“Deciding everything is falling into place perfectly as long as you don’t get too picky about what you mean by place. Or perfectly.”

These words appear on a brightly colored print at my house from Iowa-based artist Brian Andreas. The figure in the picture enthusiastically dances through the inky words, while I stare at such abandon, chuckling to myself. This picture was a gift from someone who knew how much I orchestrated things to fall into place. It’s a gift that has turned into a great reminder that things falling “perfectly into place” means different things to different people.

Earlier this week, I received another type of gift. A friend reached out and told me she is starting the process to becoming an ordained minister in the ELCA. She expressed a familiar anticipation and nervousness. It would be a major career change for her, and would require a significant investment of time and energy. Something many of us can relate to anytime we begin preparing for a new type of work.

She also played a bit of the “if only” game. “If only” I had done this before the kids were born, she said. “If only” I had start 15 years ago, “if only” I was doing this in a better location. The “if only” game can easily paralyze, but more than that, it can easily discourage. We find ourselves wandering the field of “if only,” to find ourselves beaten up by our strongest enemy – the voice in our head. “If only” acts like a thief, stealing joy and a sense of purpose. “If only” is a bully, telling us our vision for the future is full of clouds. “If only” deals out cards of despair while constantly reminding us that the deck is stacked against us.

Perhaps this is why I like the picture in my house so much. The “if only” game shouts that things fall into place if they are clearly perfect, whereas grace shouts that what falls into place can be made perfect, can be made new. The author of Hebrews in the New Testament exhorts the reader to run with perseverance the race that is set before them, looking to Jesus who is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

I think of my friend who has picked up and started running a new proverbial race. I think of the many people around me who are running a new race on a daily basis. The track may be well marked, or it may be just dust, sometimes it will be rocky, and other times it may be the best running surface we can imagine. But I wonder where our eyes will be set? Staring down at our own feet? Looking around at others who appear to be passing us by?

Or will they be set on Jesus?

Jesus is the one who certainly achieved perfection by an earthly standards, the one who embodies grace and perfect love. 1 John says that perfect love drives out all fear. Fear is something we know. Fear is the prime component of the “if only” game. But God’s love drives it out. God’s love takes away the dice from the “if only” game, God’s love allows us to let go of our limited ideas of perfection, so we can see things fall into the places they were meant to be. Freedom can be found in not being too picky.

Amy Diller, pastor in residency

3 Comments on “The if only game”

  • April

    June 2, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    This really speaks to where I am at in my life. Thank you for this gift.

  • Frank Claudy

    June 2, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    The ‘everything is falling into place perfectly’ is positioned by my computer screen. I love the Hebrews 12:1-2 reference as well. Lovely submission all the way around.

  • Stella

    June 2, 2016 at 2:55 pm


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