If only.... That’s the little phrase that often comes to mind when people are waiting for something to happen. Whether it’s a job offer, a relationship adjustment, or a much-needed insight into a long-standing problem, we’re geared to looking to the future for a resolution – if only what we hope for would just happen.
And then there’s the “if only” regret about what’s happened in the past: If only I hadn’t sent that angry e-mail; if only I hadn’t made that investment; if only I had spent my time more productively.
The human concept of time – linked to the idea of “if only” – is one factor that can make good seem elusive in the present. We may end up feeling like the White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland,” always attempting to catch up with that elusive something he was missing – “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.”
When it seems that the future we hope for is elusive and the past full of regrets, I’ve found it helpful to look at the concept of time as understood in Christian Science.
In the Glossary chapter of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy described time, in part, as “mortal measurements; limits; in which are summed up all human acts, thoughts, beliefs, opinions, knowledge” (p. 595).
That description accurately reflects how humans generally experience time – as a formidable obstacle, even an enemy. But spiritual growth and understanding can bring dominion over the limits associated with time.
One way to begin to demonstrate this dominion is to appreciate that life isn’t about the “if only” of the past or the future. In an article titled “Now and Then,” Mary Baker Eddy assured readers that, in actuality, we can live only in the present: “We own no past, no future, we possess only now” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 12).
If it’s mystifying as to how this might play out in real life – or “real time” – the same article explains further on, “Faith in divine Love supplies the ever-present help and now, and gives the power to 'act in the living present.’ ” In other words, God is giving us each moment – the eternal now – which is all the time we will ever need. When rightly understood, that eternal now contains all the good we could ever want.
Jesus admonished his disciples to think in terms of all-good being present now rather than in the future. He said to them: “Say not ye, there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35). This stands to reason. Right now our Father-Mother God is all that He-She has ever been or ever will be – infinite. Therefore, right now all good is present because all good comes from God.
The realization that we have only now isn’t just some misty, theoretical proposition. Its truth is demonstrable. It requires that we stop focusing on the “rearview mirror” of past events that feel hurtful or destructive, whether they seem to be our fault or somebody else’s. And it also requires that we try not to outline how events are going to unfold in the future, only approving if they do so according to our plans, will, and specifications.
Once I found myself in what felt like a labyrinth of circumstances. It seemed necessary to move from where I was living, but there were complicating factors keeping me in a place that I felt had been wrong for me for a long time. I struggled to devise my own timetable, outlining how and when the future would unfold and when I would be delivered from those circumstances. I mentally rehearsed the past. But my efforts to force a solution were not effective, and each time I tried, I felt more deeply enmeshed in the situation, as when a car is caught in a rut, and slamming down the accelerator only makes the wheels spin.
But I found that prayer – the process of spiritual realization – can lift a predicament out of the conventional snares of the human time frame. Through prayer, I could become willing to let go of self-will regarding the outcome and, to some extent, gain victory over the belief of time – the belief that the past was obstructing my future.
Before I knew it, the move that I had longed for came about smoothly.
We don’t live in a harried past or a worrisome future, dependent on an “if only” solution. We can exult that we live only now, when and where God, good, is the only presence.