Last night I had a wrestling match with regret. I don’t know where it came from, but after a simple conversation with my husband and a few minutes of thinking, regret jumped up out of nowhere and grabbed me by the neck like an intruder set on putting me out for good.
In the space of minutes, I saw in my mind a picture of myself with a loved one: how easily offended and selfishly sensitive I had been around a struggling, God-loving friend for years, when robust love and patience were what I should’ve given.
That led to another one (as the brain often goes). I regretted always letting my easily-upset, childish tendencies show with the person I love most: my husband.
That led to the if-onlys. If only I had started intentionally obeying God like the young facebook friend whose blogs I like to read, who harnesses her heart to praise God while in great pain. When I was her age, I only wanted to build a better life for myself.
If only I’d worked hard and helped save money when Tim and I were younger, maybe Tim wouldn’t have had to work so hard now. If only.
I got myself so upset that I ended up crying, “God, let me make up for it. I’ll be cheerful and encourage Tim every day. I’ll be more patient with the ones I love. I’ll stop whining. I’ll stop being negative.” I had visions of a transformed Scrooge running through the street after his bad night, spilling out money to the poor, sending a turkey to Bob Cratchit’s house, showing up at his nephew’s door a changed man. Not being Scrooge anymore.
But in the space of a minute, I knew it just didn’t work that way. So, after leaving my drama-queen tear-pond, I ended up whinnying, “Lord, just help me,” as I fell asleep.
That was my little trip into regret.
Now, this is my little trip out.
This morning I woke up and the first word that came into my head was, “Abortion.” What?
I sat straight up, and a picture came to mind, that of a strong and godly woman I admire, who never lets her younger friends sit around with otherworldly illusions about her—she has told us more than once, “When I was younger, I had an abortion. Now I wish I hadn’t. I deeply regret it, but I do not stay there. God has a perfect plan, I will see that child one day, and I live in His grace, and I move forward.” She has a job to do, she shows peace, strength, and love on her face, and she does not embody the destruction of regret.
“Okay,” I thought. “Not looking behind, pressing forward. The words of the Apostle Paul.” And although abortion is seen as a controversial topic, terrorism is something we all hate. Paul had been a terrorist. Okay.
But what about the lost time we all live with? How can we have the heart to move on if we can’t make up for it?
What do I tell my older friend who didn’t receive Jesus until he was 65, who left behind a long vacuum of wasted time? What do I say to the mom who alienated her children and who never hears from them now? What do I tell myself, for that matter? All of us get tangles of regrets in our laps that beg to be unknotted. All of us at GreenTree, to different degrees, have memories that spell I-F-O-N-L-Y. I hear many stories of wasted time among the members of our group. Many of us have been too passive; some of us have been in jail, some of us have destroyed another person with our words, used other people for their bodies, let our children grow up with wounds we inflicted, cursed God for years with our destructive behaviors. What about the lost time?
If the lost time could be magically redeemed somehow, maybe then we could have the heart to press forward.
I was talking to my dad on the phone today about this very subject. He pointed out two things that can completely obliterate regret over lost time:
“We don’t have to start well. We just need to finish well.”
He was thinking of the Parable of the Generous Employer in Matthew 20, in which a landowner paid those he’d hired in the morning the same wages as the people he’d hired later in the day. My dad said, “It seems like God doesn’t count how much we do or when we got started. It’s just what we do with the time we have now. So we don’t have to have regrets.”
It’s another example of the backwards math of the kingdom, I guess. Kingdom Math seems weird, unfair, and encouraging all at once. Sometimes it’s our only hope.
“God can do great and mighty things in a short time.”
That’s what someone told my dad once when he was discouraged about lost time. God isn’t bound to time. He binds Himself to forgive and completely forget when we repent, and He can stop time and stretch it if He wants to. He loves doing what we aren’t capable of. Ask people who have walked with God for any length of time, and you’ll begin to hear story after story of growth spurts and sudden opportunities.
Maybe our tales of regret aren’t so different from those Old Testament stories in which God whittles down His armies to small numbers. He does seem to favor downsizing the human-credential phenomenon we Americans tend to like so much. Maybe mistakes, sins, and lost years are only opportunities for God to show off. Maybe if it’s not about us, we’re free.
It’s a new day, GreenTree friends. No regrets.