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.
This guest blog is written by Laura Goodman. Laura is a teacher at Community Bible Study, which meets at Pinedale Christian Church on Thursday mornings. Leaders at Community Bible study yearly write a personal devotional piece to share with the group; this is part of Laura’s devotional writing, about her personal experience with the desire to grow in relational closeness with Jesus. If you wonder what it means to “grow closer to God,” and want to know how that’s done, take this refreshing blog post as an inspiration and encouragement to begin with God right where you are.
As I look back, I realize that I was stuck in a spiritual rut for years without knowing it. I was stagnant. I would give God whatever time I had at the end of the day, right before bed, sometimes ending up falling asleep within a few minutes of opening my Bible. Worship at church on Sunday mornings was great, but only if we sang the songs I liked. The pastor’s message was moving, but I mostly thought it was just what everyone else needed to hear.
I was a fairly new youth pastor’s wife at the time and I wanted people to know that I had it together. That worked until I volunteered to teach a High School girls’ Sunday School class. What a challenge that was. Did I mention that my co-teacher was the most godly woman and the most gifted teacher I knew? I was put in my place, and I quickly figured out that I could do NOTHING without Jesus. It was a huge lesson learned as I realized I didn’t know quite as much as I thought I did and not nearly as much as I wanted to. God was so gracious to me, and through much humility, He gave me such a hunger and thirst for the Word that I had never experienced. It proved to be a pivotal moment in my walk with Christ.
But something was still missing. During a sermon our pastor asked the question, “If Jesus was all you had in heaven (no mansion, streets of gold, no reuniting with loved ones, etc.), would you still want to go? Would Jesus be enough?” Fear gripped me as I sat there, and I knew the answer was, “No, Jesus was not enough.” I had what I thought was a strong faith and a hunger for God’s Word, I loved Jesus for what He did on the cross for me, but I did not have a deep intimate love for Jesus that, in my human mind, would last for eternity. I think we can have great faith but still miss our True Love, and that is where I was. As I wrestled with that, I was determined that I would love him more, seek him more.
In the book Pilgrim’s Progress, the character Christian and his friend and fellow sojourner, Hopeful, go through numerous depressing and hindering trials, almost costing them their lives at times on their way to the Celestial City. When they finally get near the City, this is what they experience:
“. . . The beauty of the City and the radiance of the sunbeams coming from it were such a glorious sight that Christian became sick with intense longing. Hopeful also was stricken with the same affliction, and because of their pangs they lay there for some time crying out, ‘If you find my beloved one, tell Him that I am sick with love.'”
That is the intimacy I desired, and I immediately knew that my quiet time was the first thing that was going to have to change. The core to any relationship is quality time. In my previous quiet times I was not being silent before the Lord to listen, confess sin, to worship Him, and meditate on what I was learning and what He was teaching me. But where was I going to find the time when I wouldn’t be distracted by kids or fall asleep? I decided I would have to get up, exercise to get myself awake and then do a quiet time.
The first week was so hard. I would start off feeling great, but by midday I was tired, which made me cranky and tired for the rest of the day. But I stuck with it and now I don’t function well without it. It is a habit; it is a part of me. I enjoy that part of my day the most.
But not every day do I feel like worshiping Him early in the morning. On those tough days, my quiet time starts like, “God, I will praise you today even though I don’t feel like it because you alone are Worthy and if I won’t, the stones will cry out.” That very statement helps bring me into a worshipful state, and I am blessed even more those times because it puts me in my place. It helps me to see how much I need Him and how I really can’t do anything successfully without Him.
So now my daily prayer is that I would fall more and more in love with Him every day. I still am processing what that looks like by asking the question: “What is your part, God, and what is mine? You have to do the revealing and fill me with your Love if I do the seeking, right?” For I have figured out that surprise, surprise, I can’t do it on my own!! Although it has been a steady and somewhat slow process, I feel so much closer to my Lord and Savior than I have before, I have a growing love for Jesus that I have not experienced before. The greatest part about it is that I am never satisfied; I just continue to want more.
Maybe you have struggled with this too. Maybe I am the only one, and that’s okay. I am so thankful that God did not leave me where I was. May we be constantly humbled to have the experience of being drawn close to and loved by a sovereign and intentional God. May we all love Jesus as deeply as we see in Song of Solomon:
“For your love is better than wine.” Song of Solomon 1:2
“My Beloved is mine and I am His…” Song of Solomon 2:16
“…If you find my Beloved tell Him I am lovesick.” Song of Solomon 5:8