Reclaiming “if only” moments
What we now see as misguided actions or lost opportunities are not irredeemable.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, writes, “It is good to talk with our past hours, and learn what report they bear, and how they might have reported more spiritual growth” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 330). Most of us have at times reflected on our past accomplishments and reevaluated our goals. Yet what if this journey of self-assessment includes “if only” moments?
What we now see as misguided actions or lost opportunities are not irredeemable. And while it may be impossible to relive the past, we can still amend our present thoughts about it through prayer. By aligning our thinking more accurately with God’s view of us as His beloved offspring and with what He truly knows of our history, we are able to yield to the redeeming action of divine Love, God. This renewing influence can restore our sense of innocence and well-being. The Bible promises, “I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten” (Joel 2:25).
Widespread beliefs about ancestry, birth order, chance, and age, as well as belief systems such as numerology and astrology, are often suggested as factors contributing to “if onlys,” whether a distressing one-off or a pattern of failures. Yet, these erroneous elements can be rendered powerless as we discover more clearly our inseparable relation to God.
Christian Science teaches that God, divine Principle, is the only cause of all real being, and that man (the true identity of everyone) is His effect or witness, expressing His intelligent action. Accordingly, divine Principle or Love is not the source of careless decisions, wrongful actions, painful memories, or trauma. Therefore, “if onlys,” which tend to result in self-condemnation or anxiety, are actually false beliefs, having no starting point, no capacity to engage us, and no capability of enduring. Recognizing this, we can rewrite the past in accord with spiritual reality and prove mistakes powerless to prolong or even produce sorrow, futility, or defeat. Through prayer, former blunders can be rectified, punishing grief and regret can be overcome, and a recompense for irreparable loss can be realized.
For example, Saul of Tarsus, a notorious persecutor of the early Christians, is depicted in the Bible as “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (see Acts 9:1–18). On his way to Damascus, Saul is rendered blind. Meanwhile, Ananias, a Christian disciple, is divinely directed to heal Saul of his blindness. Reluctant to obey, Ananias recounts Saul’s unsavory reputation and questions his worthiness of healing. Nonetheless, Ananias is instructed by Christ, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”
Ananias obeys the Christly mandate and heals Saul, who is then baptized and goes on to advocate for the teaching and practice of Christianity, fulfilling God’s intent for him. He later assumes the name Paul in evidence of his redeemed character. Well into his ministry, he writes, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).
In reality, the Christ—the pure manifestation of God’s love for mankind, which transformed Saul—has always been wisely guiding us. And even if we have strayed through ignorance or willful defiance, divine Love patiently waits to bless us with spiritual enlightenment and redemption, liberating our way forward as we yield obedience to God’s law. Thus doing, we realize that our innate innocence and unique purpose are intact. On this pathway of reform, we begin to prove that wrongdoing and false character traits do not define our bygone years nor determine our potential for present and future progress and success.
To vacate the mortal narrative for the spiritual facts of being is not careless injustice or an imprudent ignoring of mistakes. It is an inevitable yielding to our own “high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” in which we discover divine Love’s forgiveness and our true, unblemished selfhood. God’s avowal of full pardon is, “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee” (Isaiah 44:22).
Accepting our true, unblemished spiritual record, we rejoice in the knowledge of God’s ever-present care. Then past regrets, lost opportunities, and fears for our future have no basis or authority to harm us. Mrs. Eddy affirms: “We glean spiritual harvests from our own material losses. In this consuming heat false images are effaced from the canvas of mortal mind; and thus does the material pigment beneath fade into invisibility” (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 79).
Bad memories are actually phases of mortal belief, wrongful interpretations that do not accurately portray our actual, spiritual identity. So they must yield to the corrective action of Christ. No condemning rehearsals of error or projections of continuing failure can withstand this purifying action of Christ, which eternally advocates for our spotless selfhood as the perfect image or expression of God. Our God-appointed purpose remains exclusively under the jurisdiction of divine law, independent of time or the actions and thoughts of others.
In God’s perfect creation and superior design, there is nothing to limit our potential, make us afraid, paralyze our growth, or render us vulnerable to recurring setbacks and loss. Instead, we can reject cycles of fictitious recollections and fearful forecasts and reclaim “if only” moments to profitable rectification, assured that only divine Love’s plan can be worked out in us. Increasingly, we will witness God’s will being fulfilled as we turn wholeheartedly to Him and obediently listen for, embrace, and follow His guidance and correction. The Bible assures us, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).
Mrs. Eddy remarks: “We own no past, no future, we possess only now. . . . Faith in divine Love supplies the ever-present help and now, and gives the power to ‘act in the living present’ ” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 12).
In this “living present,” we can accept our innate spiritual selfhood as forever intact, never controlled or compromised by “if onlys.” As we humbly consent to divine Love’s healing action, we are absolved of the impulse to mourn the past or to carry forward its emotional wounds. Rather, we expunge “if onlys” and reinterpret them in accord with the consistency of the Science of being and its ever-present health, holiness, and harmony—our true record.