Archives, Biography, Pondering, Wheaton

Thoughts on Regret

In the attempt to make my market-appropriate bland walls inhabitable, I went in search of some cheap, decent art that went with beige. I kept running into posters with the slogan “Live without regret.”

Live without regret? Everywhere I go, including the recesses of my own heart, I find plenty of regret lurking in the corners and springing out from the shadows. And I don’t believe I’m not alone in this epidemic of regret. I hear and see it everywhere. We wish we had structured our mortgages-or portfolios differently; we struggle to raise our kids who seem like they will never leave until they actually do and we aren’t done with them yet. We wish we had spent more time on pursuing education or guarding our health or cultivating relationships with God or with each other. We wish we had more room to love some part of the world
outside ourselves, but our own needs seem so overwhelming all by themselves. Here’s the problem: we are often doing the best that we know and it simply isn’t good enough. Things don’t turn out as we intend.

Not long ago I had a thoughtful conversation with an older friend about regret. I asked her, “Why is so hard for us to admit that, despite our best efforts, some of our choices have unintended consequences?” What are we ashamed of? Why is our first instinct to run and hide? As we talked, I again realized that “I was naked and so I hid” is so fundamentally embedded in our souls that we don’t even recognize the strong family likeness to our first parents.

We do live, but not without regret.

So what difference does it make that Christ came? What does Jesus’ incarnation, passion and resurrection mean for the sleepless nights when I rehearse movies from the past in my mind, subconsciously trying to find a different ending, yet always rising to the same regretful reality?

Years ago I experienced a particularly difficult moment. I hadn’t had a job interview for ten years, and in the previous one I had naively skipped through land mines because I didn’t know they were there. A decade later I couldn’t put two sentences together. I recognized the questions under the questions, the political agendas in the room…and I froze. I left the institution tasting the bitter inevitability of failure and filled with shame and regret.

Ironically, perhaps, I was on my way to a healing mission in Europe, and at our opening Eucharist, all I could do was put one foot in front of the other as I reluctantly and regretfully approached the communion rail. What did I think I was doing there? I couldn’t cope with my own failure, let alone be a vessel the Lord could use in anyone else’s life.

When I finally looked up, everything in the room changed. With the eyes of my heart I saw the risen Christ standing before me, arms open wide in love and acceptance, hosting a table filled with more good things to eat than I could comprehend in one place. And I heard one word, “Welcome.” At the same time one of those verses once drilled into a younger soul rose up in my heart: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). I wept. The shame and regret was gone. I was restored in gratitude to the One who came so that we could be forgiven and accepted without having to surmount our all-too-real human limitations. Christ has come. In place of our cruel regrets we find his loving acceptance. “Live without condemnation.”

Now there’s a statement I would emblazon across any color wall.

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