When I lose twenty pounds, then I’ll be happy.
When I firm my up my abs, then I’ll plan that beach vacation.
When the holidays are over, then I’ll go back to the gym.
When I can get back to my goal weight, then I’ll get involved in that group.
Do you ever have thoughts like these?
I sure do. Sometimes it feels overwhelming—the list of things I could or should do for my body to make my life “better” never ends. . .
I should eat kale, not leftover Halloween candy.
I could exercise more.
I should switch to all organic cosmetic products . . .
The list is never satisfied.
So, I retreat to a world all my own. It’s a magical place that only exists in my head.
I call it When-Then Land.
Oh so much better than a Disney Park, When-Then Land is where my dreams come true. Within its borders, I’m a “better” version of myself—which somehow makes everything else in life instantly better, too.
Plus, this idyllic future’s existence only depends on one person: Me. When I can just accomplish this thing, then my life will improve.
Of course, this thinking doesn’t restrict itself to my body image. Other life issues can send me to When-Then Land too. For example:
When my kids can potty themselves, then life will be easier.
When I get a new job, then I’ll feel better about myself.
When I can be a better wife, then I’ll have a great marriage.
There’s nothing wrong with having goals, right?
Yet, while When-Then Land appears to be a safe place, it’s filled with robbers—vandals that steal without us even realizing it.
Allow me to explain.
I stopped by When-Then Land earlier today. It was such a quick trip; I didn’t even have to pack snacks. The journey proceeded as follows:
Thought: It’s time for us to get a new family photo taken.
Second thought: “When I can lose a few pounds, then I will schedule the pictures.”
Express train to When-Then Land now arriving on platform three.
Should I choose to stay in When-Then Land, I’ll never schedule those family pictures. The resident thieves convince me that I’ll look better in the future—I’ll be happier then and like the pictures more. In doing so, they rob me of the chance to capture the memory of the way my family looks now, today.
And that’s the biggest downside to living in When-Then Land. We miss out on the Here-Now.
Our mental visits to When-Then Land keep us from living life to the full.
In fact, the very existence of When-Then Land makes enjoying the Here-Now even more difficult because of the pressure we put ourselves under to accomplish the goals that will take us to this ideal place.
The burden of this is too big to carry. Trying to lose that weight, tone that body, be our “best” or just be “good enough” every day in a vain attempt to make the future “better” rates as difficult as carrying an overstuffed diaper bag while running a marathon.
So how do we escape the temptation to dwell in When-Then Land?
How do we take the pressure off and dwell in the Here-Now?
Here are two places to start.
- Uncover the Idolatry. We often live in When-Then Land because we believe a lie. That is: life would be better, happier, more joyful, easier, or freer if we had that thing we want–be it a better body, a better marriage, or even more self-sufficient children.
But, if you are a follower of Jesus, His word says that He is the only one who offers us the joy, peace, and freedom our hearts crave. He’s our salvation–not losing twenty pounds or getting a better job. He’s what we need to desire most because only He satisfies. (And, believing anything else can do the job is called idolatry.)
The expectation that we’ll love our lives When-Then we reach those goals is looking for true salvation in a place we’ll never find it. Here-Now will never be completely satisfying because God designed us with a longing for a better place–with him. The only When-Then Land that is real and will ever fulfill us is called Heaven.
Ask yourself: Am I pursuing something other than Jesus? Do I believe a lie that accomplishing one of my goals here on earth will satisfy me like only Jesus can?
- Be Thankful. Try to savor the Here-Now. The easiest way to do that is through practicing gratefulness. No, not every day here on earth will be awesome. Struggle and pain are real. But, having an attitude of thankfulness can change our perspective on the Here-Now and keep us from mentally drifting into believing a future here on earth will be anyway more magical.
Write down what you are thankful for. Practice thanking God for His great blessings when you pray. If you still feel yourself constantly drifting into that fantasyland, watch your media consumption—watching or reading a lot of fantasy or low-quality fiction can keep us trapped in When-Then Land, too.