One of my friends once told me a story that perfectly captures our human tendency to remain unhappy and unsatisfied, no matter what we accomplish in life.
My friend went on vacation to Florida to visit his elderly father. At his father’s request, they had gone to the greyhound races, where people would bet on which dogs would win against the other canine competitors (a sport that Florida voters recently decided to phase out by the end of 2020). These big, sleek animals have bodies like missiles and are natural hunters who can reach amazing speeds of 20, 30, or even 40 miles an hour.
My friend does not gamble, and he did not really like seeing animals put in that kind of competitive, high-stakes situation. Nevertheless, he admired their graceful beauty as they streaked around the dirt track, chasing a mechanical rabbit that always remained ahead of them.
But that day, something strange happened. The dogs were lined up and positioned to race, contained in gated lanes until the bell sounded as the mechanical rabbit darted past them.
Only this time something went wrong.
I fear that too often we remain dependent on “if onlys” and “what ifs” to find fulfillment and purpose in our lives.
The rabbit zoomed by, and the dogs dashed from their lanes, but then about a hundred yards later the mechanized bunny malfunctioned and came to a screeching halt. All the spectators gasped and most, including my friend, probably expected the dogs to pounce on the fake rabbit and tear it to bits. But that did not happen. Instead, the poor pups became utterly confused and did not know what to do with themselves!
My friend described it as the strangest sight. All eight dogs in the race stopped. A couple sniffed at the broken bunny and then began exploring the fence. Some found a shady spot beneath a billboard at the edge of the track. Another started to whine, clearly confused about what had happened. One even took care of some personal business right in the middle of the track, much to everyone’s amusement. But one thing became clear: without a rabbit to chase, the Greyhounds lost their motivation for racing. After countless training courses and practice runs chasing after an elusive target, when the dogs faced the object of their pursuit, they did not know what to do with it!
I suspect we often act the same way. We make our lives conditional on something just out of reach. If only we could finish our degree, then we could move forward and get a great job doing what we love.
If only we could be noticed for our hard work, then we would get that promotion.
If only our spouse could change his or her bad habits, then our marriage would work.
If only our kids could beat their addictions, then we could finally quit worrying and enjoy life again.
If only we could find the right church, then we would grow in our faith.
If only . . . if only . . . if only . . .
But then what happens when we get our “if only”? We feel lost! We find something else to make the pivot point for our contentment, forward progress, or spiritual growth. Like the Greyhounds, we chase after our rabbit but then stumble when we catch it.
As a pastor, I believe true, lasting fulfillment begins with our relationship with God. Paul summed this up quite well by using the way we race as a metaphor for our relationship with God and our pursuit of Him: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor. 9:24–25). Paul knew firsthand that no matter how significant our achievement or how devastating our loss, we win our race of faith by focusing on Christ.
I fear that too often we remain dependent on “if onlys” and “what ifs” to find fulfillment and purpose in our lives. Jesus told us He came to bring abundant life (John 10:10) – the kind of life that no matter what may happen, we can be fully satisfied and rest assured knowing God cares for us. I promise you will not be disappointed.
This article was adapted from “You Are Next: Destroy What Has Paralyzed You and Never Miss Your Moment Again” (Charisma House, 2019).