Living in the Land of If Only

I love Communion Sunday.  Celebrating at the Lord’s Table with other believers brings me back to my roots, to the reason I am a Christian:  the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  As we celebrated World Communion Sunday this past week, I was in awe of the thought that not only in Greenfield, but throughout Missouri, the U.S., and the world, believers were celebrating at the same table.  No, they weren’t all carved of wood in church buildings with stained glass windows.  Some may have been in storefronts using a folding table.  Others may have been in a home with doors and windows shuttered, hiding from an oppressive government. Nevertheless, for one day we recognized that we are one body, one people, the Body of Christ.  What a family!

LIVING IN THE LAND OF “IF ONLY”

We are all familiar with Dorothy who, after hitting her head, found herself in a strange land, seeking the wizard of Oz to get her back home. As she walked through that land with her strange companions—the tin man, a scarecrow, and a lion—she found many strange, frightening, and beautiful things.  But when she wakes up from her travels, at the end of the movie, we realize that it was all an elaborate dream.  But what a dream!

Unfortunately, mostly without the excuse of a bump on the head, we often choose to live in another land of wonder, the land of “If Only.”  In that land, we can ignore the realities of life around us. In the land of “If Only” there is no need for personal responsibility, no need for commitment, and surely no requirement that we consider others in our decisions.  Every citizen of the land of “If Only” can interpret his or her own circumstances in any way possible.

Instead of working to fix a problem, residents retreat to “if only I could get a new job,” or “if only she would change,” or some other “pie-in-the-sky” phrase to explain away their own problems or lack of growth.  In northern “If Only” people dream about winning the lottery, or the Home and Gardens or some other sweepstakes, but fail to use what they have now to make a difference.  Northern If-Only-ers can’t see the blessings of the present, but live in a dream world hoping that somehow, someway, something will change.

Denial isn’t the only problem in “If Only.”  West side residents specialize in regret and despair.  “My life would have been so different if only . . . (you fill in the ending).  Living in hopelessness because of the losses of the past is prevalent.  I can hear a young Marlon Brando whining, “I could have been a contender” (from the movie On the Waterfront.)  Someone caused their problems way back then.  It wasn’t fair, and they can’t change the past. But they can’t seem to accept the past and move on, just use it as an excuse for not trying anymore.

Residents on the south side of “If Only” live in the successes of their youth, when things were going right. “If only things could be like that now.”  The children of Israel lived in this neighborhood many times in history.  “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).  Having once been a people mighty, strong and faithful to God, their desolation now kept them from finding peace and joy while in exile.

Are you living in “If Only”?  I have good news for you:  You can move into a better neighborhood.  There is plenty of room for you in God’s blessings and grace, but it takes a change of attitude.

First, recognize that without dependence and faith in God, in spite of lottery winnings, sweepstakes, or some other windfall, you will be tomorrow who you are today.  “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. . . . I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (1 Corinthians 6:1,2). Don’t wait until tomorrow to put your life in God’s hands.  And if you are already a believer, don’t stay in “If Only.”  Trust God today and put feet on your faith, living a full life today where you are.

Second, if you are a western If-Only-er, using the wounds and/or failures of the past as your excuse for today’s despair, it is time to accept and/or admit the past and recognize God’s forgiveness.  Forgive yourself and forgive others.  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2).  The past has no hold on those who have found peace in Christ.  Lay down your failures, forgive those of others, and allow God to bring you freedom in mind and spirit.

Finally, if the pride of the past is keeping you from living a full, spiritual life today, it is time to let go of your past successes and joys so you can recognize God’s blessings today.  When the people of God were in Babylon, God spoke through the prophet saying, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. . . . Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper’” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).  In other words, stop thinking about the past and live your lives.  In due time I will take you home.

Bloom where you are planted.  Faith in God tells us that wherever we are, God is there as well.  God has an office in “If Only” and is ready to relocate you to a place of peace and joy.  Affirm the joys of your past, forgive the lackings in yourself and others, and let tomorrow take care of itself.  Live today in the grace of today, or as Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry [or dream] about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

Blessings,

Pastor Mary Kay Glunt
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church

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