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5 Reasons “If Only” & “I Wish” Should Be Banned From English

September 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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The Way of Perfection (Week 5 of 10)

The Lord knows everyone as she really is and gives each one her work to do, according to what He sees to be most appropriate for her soul, for His own Self, and for her neighbor’s good. – The Way of Perfection (Chapter 18, Paragraph 3)

It is very possible that the phrases If Only, and his evil twin, “I Wish” are the most debilitating and poisonous words in the English language.

You may disagree. After all, the English language offers quite a selection of delectable poisons from which the connoisseur of doom and gloom may choose.

But you would be wrong.

I know. You’re scratching your head, wondering if, in fact, I’ve ever actually browsed the covers of self-help books or downloaded talks from world-renowned motivational gurus. Because – hands down – I Can’t and I Quit top their charts as the world’s worst phrases. After all, there’s zero progress made once these words pass the lips.  “I Can’t” keeps one from getting started and “I Quit” instantly stops him in his tracks. It doesn’t get much more debilitating than that.

It is possible that all those professionals with assorted letters after their names may have greater insight into this subject than I.  But it doesn't take a PhD to recognize that If Only and I Wish directly lead us to such debilitation.  These words are emotional and spiritual poison that do unthinkable harm to those of us who wish to grow in holiness.

Following are five destructive consequences of these phrases.

1. If Only and I Wish hinder progress. 

When I spend my time thinking “If only I had X' or ‘I wish I were Y”, I create a mindset of impossibility. In this case, the message sent to the brain is akin to entrapment. Since I don’t have X or I’m not Y, I am doomed to a life of mediocrity; of “settling.” This thinking inhibits progress.  Worse yet, it threatens to set me on a path toward quitting, or of lacking the courage to try in the first place.

2. If Only and I Wish close our eyes to the opportunities that lie before us.

Saying “I wish…” is not the same thing as goal-setting. Goal setting requires me to recognize where I am right now. It lives in reality.  There is no desire to deny or reject the current situation, but rather to work within it to progress toward an end. There is sure-footing beneath me when I set goals.  I can set my eyes on a target, and pace myself toward it step by step.  “If only'  and “I wish” overlook opportunities as less than ideal insofar as they are related to my current reality, inevitably causing me to close my eyes to realistic possibilities.

3. If Only and I Wish project Ingratitude.

If someone gives me a gift, and I say, “This is great, but I wish it were X,”  it's pretty obvious I am demonstrating a lack of gratitude.  Yet that's exactly what I say to God (and others) every time I use those poisonous words.

According to St. Ignatius, “Ingratitude is the cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins.” No matter how difficult, even in the midst of suffering, I must thank God that He has graced me so.  St. Ignatius assures me,

If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity.

Life may be monotonous. Things may be tough. Suffering may be excruciating. But the only way to proceed is with Gratitude. How can I develop gratitude in the face of difficulty?

By remembering the words of St. Teresa.

Whatever our position, however cumbersome the work, however difficult our relationships, God has provided them especially for our own personal good.

4. If Only and I Wish destroy relationships.

How can my relationships flourish if I wish I were someone else, somewhere else, or had something or someone else? Somewhere in my preoccupation with how I would like things to be, I authorize my sub-conscious to be dissatisfied with NOW.  But my loved ones aren’t fooled, because my feelings seep into everything I do.  Dissatisfaction has a tendency to spread like ink in clear cup of water. Once I release those words (or frankly even when I allow the thought), I communicate loud and clear that what I have is not good enough. If I'm unhappy with my job, my coworkers see themselves as part of the problem. If I'm unhappy with my state in life, my spouse and my children will live and breathe my disappointment. Do I really think they won’t feel that they are somehow tied to my unhappiness?

5. If Only and I Wish cause us to reject God's will.

This is the most destructive consequence of all.  My purpose is to know, love and serve God in this life so that I might be happy with Him in the next. How can I love or serve when I reject the particular path God has custom-built for my sanctification?

The bottom line is that in this present moment, with all its current conditions – whether or not they are of my choosing – I am called to serve. Not myself. But My Lord. In so doing, I must die to self, embracing whatever path He has placed before me – whether smooth or rocky, gentle or steep, etched with cliffs or soggy with mud.  For this is my path to sanctification. Be it ever so narrow, I must keep my eyes fixed on My savior, for He will lead the way.

And as Saint Teresa assures me, my treasure in heaven will be “far richer than any payment made by this world’s people.”


Reading Assignment:

Chapters 21-25

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you ever succumb to “If only” or “I wish?”  If so, what do you do to get yourself back on track?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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