We've talked the last few weeks about how to seek forgiveness from our children, from God and even ourselves.
Let's talk about one more bad habit that will keep you from moving beyond your regret and failure: The "what/if" game.
We finished up a three-part series of the three essential people you need to ask forgiveness from. We talked about seeking forgiveness from your child and seeking forgiveness from God and seeking forgiveness from yourself.
The Lord God says, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isa. 43:25). God is God; with His omniscience, He can’t truly forget. “Remembers your sins no more” doesn’t mean God forgets; it means He chooses not to remember.
I mentioned this last week, but allow me to go back a bit before I move forward. Every time I read this verse, I remember the classic way Corrie Ten Boom in her book, Tramp for the Lord, explained God’s forgiveness:
“When we confess our sins…God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. And even though I cannot find a Scripture for it, I believe God then places a sign out there that says NO FISHING ALLOWED.”
Dad, stop fishing. We have to stop dredging up what Christ has forgiven and chosen not to remember. It’s only then that you can move forward.
As part of this idea that we need to "stop fishing", let me mention one more bad habit that will keep you from moving beyond your regret and failure.
It’s the “What/if” game. It’s not as blatant and obvious as failing to seek forgiveness and forgiving yourself, but it is just as debilitating.
You play the “What/if” game every time you replay some incident in your child’s life and ask, “What if I had done such and such instead?”
The “What/if” game is not tied to wrong actions on your part—getting inappropriately angry with your son, letting alcohol control how you talk to the family or failure to keep your word. The “What/if” game is tied to your child’s wrong actions and the decisions he makes.
- Your ten-year-old shoplifts to impress his friend.
- Your son blows off his studies and has to repeat his sophomore year.
- Your son hangs out with a group that you’re not sure are the best influence on him.
- Your son chooses a different college degree than what you’d hoped.
As his father, it is good for you to step in and help him make right decisions and guide him in correcting his mistakes.
It is not good for you to blame yourself for the decisions he makes. That’s when you start playing the “What/if” game.
- “What if I had taken my son to the mall instead of letting him go with the family down the street?”
- “What if I had taken more time every night to review his homework with him?
- “What if I had not taken this job and moved the family across the state? He would be in his old school with those kids I really like.”
- “What if I hadn’t made such a big deal about math and accounting? Maybe I pushed too hard for him to become a CPA like me.”
The “What/if” game is pointless. You’re creating scenarios in your head and beating yourself up for things you may or may not have had anything to do with. You’re taking your son’s behavior and laying it solely on your own shoulders.
Do all you can to guide and encourage your child. Live by this principle—“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6)—but see that as a principle, not a promise.
Your child inherited a sin nature from you, and unfortunately, he will exercise it. He will make some wrong decisions. He will fall. He will sin.
Yes, do all you can to encourage and ensure your son will live to honor Christ, but in the end, it’s his decision. And sometimes he will make the wrong decision.
But that is no cause to beat yourself up. “It’s my fault, If only I had…” Playing the “what/if game is a game you’ll never win.
You can’t change the past, but the present is right in front of you. What matters is what you will do now to help your child move forward—and what you will do to help yourself move forward.
Question: Are you playing the "what/if" game now?
About the author > Lynn H. Pryor, D. Min.
Lynn spends most days writing adult Bible study resources for LifeWay Christian Resources. He serves a Nashville church as pastor and earned his doctorate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He enjoys woodworking, and his favorite projects are when his sons help. He has been married to Mary for 36 years. Learn more about Lynn at LynnHPryor.com and grab his Field Guide Removing Doubt.
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