How many times have you heard someone say, “When I die, I will have no regrets”? And how many times have you looked at the fruit of the speaker’s life and have thought that she surely must have some regrets, for the fruit of her life wasn’t all that lovely? Broken marriages, career-obsession, wayward children and who knows what all else tumble in the wake of selfish actions. Still, the person thinks she will have no regrets. Why? Because she was “true to herself.” She “followed her heart.”
But by being true to herself, she was not being true to God. How far can the human heart go down the road of sumptuous self-interest before the stench of sulfur scorches the nostrils?
So often our desires are not those of God, but the fleshly desires of the moment, transient attractions, will’o the wisps consumed in a moment, discarded forever. Can you build a legacy on such shaky ground? Can you avoid regret?
Indeed, is regret a thing to be avoided, or is it the whispering of the Holy Spirit in your heart prompting you to make necessary change? I think it’s the latter, and am happy to say I have had plenty of regrets, because I view them as catalysts for positive change, a way to redirect the path God has laid out for me.
Have I been less than civil with someone I love? The tug of possible regret causes me to stop before I ruin the moment completely. Regret gives me that second chance. Have I toyed with ditching my responsibilities, or actually tossed them out the door? The pang of regret brings me back to face those things that must be done, or face the consequences. That pile of laundry unsteadily stacked on the washing machine, or worse yet, the couch, calls to me in the silent voices of my family, who will not complain about wearing that shirt for the second day, or having to pull a not-too-dirty t-shirt out of the pile so there’s at least something to put on before going out. Yes, I regret the things I’ve left undone, worse yet, I regret the look of stoic endurance in my family’s eyes. They, and God, know I can do better.
Isn’t this just feeling guilty? Aren’t women prone to being manipulated by guilt?
There’s a big difference between feeling guilty and being regretful. While we are all guilty before almighty God for our sins, and I will not minimize this, I’ve been the victim, or the perpetrator, of drive-by guiltings more frequently than I would like to admit. When there’s a little hook of obligation in the heart, and it’s been exploited, or I’ve exploited it. When I’ve said to someone, “Well, I know you’re busy, but…” then planted my request square in the middle of their demands and daily schedule, and gone about my merry way without even considering what I’ve just done. Or someone has done precisely the same to me, and I comply because I will feel guilty if I don’t.
But guilt = it’s all my fault. Regret = conviction of a situation in which change needs to be made. Guilt = a product of humanist psychotherapy and blame-promoting. Regret = God’s whisper to my ears.
There are many things I regret, and many changes I must make.
I regret I did not pay more attention to my grandparents’ stories, but I will do my best to pass on the ones I do remember to my descendants, and to write them down in my memory book. I will make sure to dramatize them a bit, not in embellishment of details, but in drama of the retelling, to help my descendants remember them vividly.
I regret that I didn’t pay more attention in history class when the teacher covered the legacy of the European peoples; I regret that I yawned, thinking them no more than a listing of names and dates. Delving deeper, I will read more deeply into the lives and events I skimmed over so lightly.
My Bible lay unread for many years after my first marathon reading of the entire Book. Regret is kind, and fills my life with many opportunities to finger through the Word’s riches again. I am especially blessed by this regret, which keeps me aware of God’s story and His intentions for my life.
Others spoke ill of people like me, those who share a European genesis. I said not a word, and regret it to this day.
I voted for candidates based on surface characteristics, who mouthed the right-sounding platitudes. I regret this, and will do it no more.
Businesses sold American jobs overseas; I did not protest nor change my purchasing habits. An acquaintance has lost his local manufacturing job; do I detect a whisper of regret when I go shopping? Turn the label over, Laurel, and know where that product was made.
Knowing what I know of the rapid decline of our population and the equally rapid rise of the population of other men of other climes and countries, I regret that I did not have more children. There is no sound to this but the sound of the cold wind blowing through the nursery window, the empty nursery, all the unused toys lined up in unnaturally neat rows.
On the hierarchy of regret, this one sits pretty high. Knowing what I know about the the swelling populations of the dark-skinned others, I regret that I have left this future to my grandchildren; a lifetime of being the odd person out. An ordinary man or woman, we would have said back in the days when that was all we were, and we had it all. But now an ordinary person fighting against fierce competition for scarce jobs and resources, perhaps an ordinary person who will not find a job, or a spouse of similar kind. What unimaginable temptations will my grandson know because of the things I did not do?
How will he resist?
I regret that this is the fate I leave to those whom I love, and those who love me most; a life of battle or subjection.
I regret. I had choices and made the wrong ones. I did not stand up for the right causes, for people like me.
Is it too late?
God grant me the will to act before I pile any more of these kinds of regrets on my plate. God, change my responses to the smears and vilification my people endure.
May Your Holy Spirit whisper in my ear the words to say, with grace and firmness, that I and those I love might endure.