Never Regret Anything

Sorrowing Old Man (‘At Eternity’s Gate’), by Vincent van Gogh, 1890.

My Darling Child,

I have many regrets. I regret things I’ve done, things I’ve said, things I haven’t done – but most of all – I regret things that have happened to me. Part of this is because my childhood was filled with abuse and dysfunction, but I suspect that most people feel this way too. We all have dreams about how life is supposed to be, and so often we are disappointed.

Hurtful words and selfish actions can cause us to regret, but many times the things we regret the most are “what might have been.” Maybe looking back, we would have picked a different college degree, or called someone we loved one last time before they unexpectedly passed away. Maybe we regret buying something that didn’t turn out to be a good investment, or an innocent slip of the tongue embarrassed a friend or hurt someone’s feelings. Maybe we married someone who – in one way or another – wasn’t the kind of person we thought they were.

Many people will tell you not to have regrets. What they usually mean is, “Let the past live in the past. Everyone makes mistakes, so move on, and don’t worry about it.”

But can we really in good conscience not feel pangs of remorse for the bad or foolish things we’ve done? How can we not regret choices we’ve made – even those that seemed wise and good at the time – which changed our lives forever in ways we didn’t want?

My Darling Child, rest your heart in God’s sovereignty. Before the beginning of time, God knew you. He knew your strengths and your weaknesses, your challenges and your best attributes. He knew every mistake and sin you’d ever commit, and yet, He loved you!

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:16

You see, God is a master-planner. He didn’t just design you and then step back to see what would happen. He is actively invested in you. In fact, He has invested His beloved Son’s very lifeblood in you! So never doubt that God has a plan for everything, even the things that you feel regretful about. In His wisdom, He foresaw every decision and happenstance – both good and bad – and in His mercy and providence He planned to bring about redemption through them all.

Even the worst atrocities of the wicked are used by God to bring about His sovereign plan. Remember Judas, and how he betrayed Christ. Jesus knew what Judas was going to do. Nevertheless, He courageously allowed Himself to be led like a sheep to the slaughter, so that – at the proper place, in the perfect time – the centurion would declare, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:39.

If God can use Judas’ infamous sin for His redemptive work, He can certainly use the sins of his children! Remember the three denials of Peter, and the violent reputation of Paul before he was saved.

All this is not to say that we shouldn’t learn from our mistakes, or avoid and despise sin, but we can find peace knowing that God’s righteous plan will come to fulfillment regardless of how badly we stumble. We can take comfort knowing that we are sinners, just like the very greatest saints of the Gospel, and we are demonstrating to the world that Jesus is powerful to save.

The next time you regret hurting someone’s feelings, think about what God has given you; the opportunity to repent, humble yourself, apologize, and demonstrate God’s redemptive work in your heart. The next time you make a decision that doesn’t turn out the way you planned, remember that it turned out exactly the way God planned. Pray, and be drawn closer to God through your struggles and uncertainty. Wherever life takes you, witness to those around you, and above all, find joy – not regret – in the opportunity.

God is sovereign, and God is good. He planned for it all, and He’s working through you – even on your toughest days – to bring about His will. Never look over your shoulder and regret the hazards God has guided you through. Instead, marvel at the beauty of His grace for guiding you through the hazards.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:15-17

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20

Until You Can Forgive, You Cannot Truly Love

Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, France.

Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, France.

My Darling Child,

So many things will happen in your life that will be difficult, if not impossible, to forgive. Some of the people I’ve trusted most implicitly have betrayed my confidence, wrongfully judged me, or simply were not spiritually mature enough to comfort and counsel me through my struggles.

Someday, when you are married, your spouse will hurt your feelings more than you ever thought possible. Someday, you’ll realize that your mother isn’t actually as wise or comforting as you once believed I was when you were a child, and I will disappoint you.

Everyone who your heart puts on a pedestal will eventually fall. The higher the pedestal – the deeper your trust – the bigger the agonizing crash will be.

Sometimes, you’ll have to let go of people and discontinue friendship with them. Sometimes – while you may forgive them – you cannot trust them or feel comfortable with them again. Other times, you will love the offending person very much, and be deeply invested in your relationship with them. During these times, the grace and skill of forgiveness is a vital necessity.

I call forgiveness a “grace,” because true forgiveness is a power given to you by Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is not something you can usually muster on your own, especially for serious hurts. I call forgiveness a “skill,” because forgiveness takes a lot of time, effort, and practice. Sometimes, even if your forgiveness is genuine and thorough the first time, you’ll find that your injured heart still aches, and you’ll have to forgive that person again, and again, and again, and again.

My Darling Child, we cannot genuinely love each other by sweeping hurt feelings under a rug, or pretending that bad things never happened. We cannot un-say cruel words by trying really hard to forget them. Time doesn’t really heal all wounds. Often, time lets wounds fester and grow even more painful and deep than they were to begin with.

The apostle Paul described love quite beautifully in his letter to the Corinthians:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8b

True love desires a relationship to heal, grow, strengthen, and endure. A relationship cannot do any of these things if it is haphazardly bandaged together with lies, denial, and false pretenses of happiness. True love desires to be joyful – not merely content – in a relationship. True love wants to blossom and thrive, not stagnate in a limbo where we avoid touchy topics, fake our smiles, awkwardly force cheery greetings, and pretend to be sad when we part company.

But forgiveness is hard. Often, you will find that you cannot bring yourself to forgive even the people you love most dearly. That is because forgiveness is not a natural thing to do. Our instincts tell us to stay hurt, hold the offending party at arms length, and wallow in our justifiable indignation. Our gut tells us to demand an apology, to punish the offender for being so offensive, and to remind them again and again of how disappointed we are in them.

I will not lie; I have a great deal of trouble forgiving loved ones for deeply hurt feelings. That is how I know that in order to forgive – really forgive – we must ask God to heal our hearts and empower us to forgive like Him. How amazing it would be, if even on the brink of death we could plead, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

Forgiveness isn’t a feeling you can muster like you would a positive attitude. It’s not a pill you manage to swallow with enough effort and water despite gagging. Forgiveness is a miracle! Thus love – genuine love which entails continual forgiveness – is an even greater miracle.

As I mentioned before, the pains of already-forgiven wounds may sting for years after the fact. You may hear insults ringing in your ears long after they’re spoken, and your mind replay and reconsider painful memories until they bleed afresh. Pray through it. Read the Bible through it. Rely on Jesus Christ, the Lord of Forgiveness, to endow you with the power to install forgiveness – not just as a one time act – but as an all-consuming, character-defining lifestyle, that heals your wounded heart, stills your restless soul, and brings you peace and fulfilling joy.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~ Colossians 1:11-14