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If only I knew then what I know now . . . maybe I wouldn’t have suffered as much.
If only I knew then what I know now . . . maybe less people would have been hurt.
If only I knew then what I know now . . . maybe I wouldn’t struggle with depression and anxiety and perpetual feelings of unworthiness.
If only . . . If only . . . If only . . .
This phrase leads me down a never-ending rabbit hole. I have a tendency to get caught up on the past and become paralyzed in the present because I am overwhelmingly focused on what could have been if only I would have . . . .
January 8, 2016 would have been my eighth wedding anniversary. Thoughts of what I could have done or should have done plague me during this month. I often wonder why I said yes to the marriage in the first place. I think back to moments of feeling completely inadequate in my newfound role as wife and stepmother; to the moment before I walked down the aisle with feelings of doubt. If only I knew then what I know now I would have made different decisions. At least this is what I tell myself . . . .
I met my now ex husband when I was 23 years old, we were married when I was 25 and we were divorced by the time I was 30. At that time in my journey, I was convinced that life was passing me by and that marriage was the only viable option. I was a woman in ministry, starting seminary with a slew of failed relationships behind me. I was encountering men who didn’t support women in ministry and was desperately seeking to love and be loved. My husband was one of the first men to affirm my call and offer me support in ways I hadn’t yet experienced. I didn’t have a clear sense of self and was still dealing with “daddy issues.” I made decisions at this point in my life that were based on my life experiences to date.
Why do we believe that present day revelations would have made a difference in previous day realities? Maybe it’s the saying that “Hindsight is 20/20.” Maybe it’s the oft-used quote by Maya Angelou as a mantra for the enlightened, “When you know better, you do better.” Maybe it’s the belief that age and experience lead to wisdom, which we surely must be lacking when we are young, therefore making decisions that we later come to regret. I think we do ourselves a disservice with this line of thinking. It sets us up to ruminate on what could have been. We beat ourselves for not making different decisions and we get caught up on what we perceive to be the “wrong decision,” whatever that may be.
I’ve come to learn that who I was then isn’t necessarily compatible with the revelations I now possess. Things are revealed to us as we are open to receiving them. There were plenty of times in my formative years when my parents would offer advice or feedback that I wasn’t ready to receive or that I didn’t understand in the moment. This is why the line of thinking, “If only I knew then. . . .” sets us up for failure. Maybe you weren’t ready to receive what you know now. Maybe there were people you were meant to encounter that you wouldn’t have met if things had been different. Maybe that life experience was meant to teach you something that you would need later in life.
I am a woman of Christian faith. While I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason or that God has a master plan for my life, I do believe that God walks with us and can bring the fullness of our stories together in ways that make meaning, make a difference, and ultimately make us who we are. I believe that we have free will and this allows us to make various decisions throughout the course of our life. I trust in the promise that God has made to never leave nor forsake me. This means that no matter what decisions I make, God is right there with me, in the mess. God reveals Godself all the time but it’s up to me to be open to that revelation.
I think about my marriage and I can see how God made space for me to grow and learn about myself. I can see how the people I met and experiences I had prepared me for the life I’m now living. I can see the lessons I learned about love and forgiveness and grace and compassion, especially as these traits relate to how I feel about and treat myself.
So this year, I am switching my line of thinking. Instead of focusing on what I would have done or should have done if only I knew then what I know now, I’m going to focus on what I believe and on what God has shown me. By doing this, I will be constantly reminded that it’s not about what I do but it is about who God is.
If only I believed that God created me in the divine image;
If only I believed that my current reality isn’t my final reality;
If only I believed that all of my struggles will together for good;
If only I believed that my worth is not based on what I’ve done but on who God has already claimed me to be . . . .
If only we believed this. Can you imagine what your life would be like?
Embracing My Shadow. I am also a columnist at ShePreaches Magazine, an online resource for young African-American women in ministry.