How to Surrender “What Could Have Been” so You Can Enjoy “What Is”

Elizabeth Billups honestly

A few years ago, cancer came into our family’s story and greedily tried to take the life of our 9-year-old daughter through leukemia. And although thankfully our daughter is now in remission, we learned first-hand that cancer is an extremely formidable enemy to fight.

But like most enemies, cancer made us stronger and more focused on what’s really important. When cancer brought the darkness, it made it easier for us to see the brightly shining stars of love and kindness.

Like a sailor from long ago using the stars to navigate his way home, the stars fueled by God’s goodness guided our family through a very long, dark night. And although we are profoundly grateful to have reached the shore, we quickly realized it’s still not the destination we had originally chartered.

We are in a new land now. A land that in many ways is more brightly colored than the one we knew before, yet is still unfamiliar. But we know there is no going back. We know that we must surrender the hopes and dreams we had for our old life in order to fully embrace the riches in this new life.

What’s happening in your life that is different than what you mapped out?

No matter how big or small the detours in our lives are, it takes some time to acclimate. But after we get settled in a bit to our new surroundings, our happiness hinges on our ability to let go of “what might have been” and fully enjoy “what is.”

When one of my other daughters was a toddler, she was the first of her playgroup to scale a fence or make it to the top of the “big kid” playground. And in about two seconds, my brain declared her physically gifted and began imagining her becoming an expert rock climber or some other sort of brilliantly accomplished athlete one day. Yet, she’s now 14 and has never shown more than a slight interest in the rock-climbing wall and virtually no interest in sports in general.

Consciously or unconsciously, we’ve all got dreams in our heads for our kids, spouse and for ourselves. And many of these dreams are what drives us to be the best mom, wife or woman we can be. But when something in our lives happens that makes one of these dreams highly unlikely or impossible, it’s tempting to focus on what is not going to happen rather than focusing on what is happening or what might happen.

It takes some practice, but here are two ways of training your thoughts to focus on the treasures that exist in the new land you may be in.

  1. When you begin to dwell too long on something that went wrong or something that is now for one reason or another not likely in your future, shift your focus to name three things that are good about your life as it exists right now.

Example:  If your husband is out of work, he may now have more time to spend with your kids, connect with you, and rest up for his next big adventure.

  1. Consider new dreams that are now possible only in this new land. What about your new experience enables you to do something you couldn’t have done before?

Example: Let’s say your kids didn’t get a spot at the awesome preschool around the corner like you wished. After an appropriate amount of grumbling, consider how enrolling in a preschool a bit further away may give you the chance to meet a whole new group of moms and kids. Your child may meet his life-long best friend at the new preschool.

Yes, it’s really awful when our lives take a detour. But just like with our family, there’s usually no going back. Cancer will always be a part of our story … but it certainly doesn’t need to be the full story.

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Elizabeth Billups is the content manager at MOPS International. She’s also the author and illustrator of The Puddle Jumper’s Guide to Kicking Cancer and other books. With three kids of her own, she’s got a heart for supporting moms and families.