The No Regret Syndrome
I’m sure you’ve heard phrases like: “Live like you’re dying” and “You got to put the past behind you”. My personal favorite is: “No regrets”. I laugh often at the commercial that suggests a Milky Way has enough power to make a tattoo artist misspell “regrets” on a biker’s arm. Simply put, it’s prideful to believe that anyone can live abundantly without regrets.
Before my readers protest my statement, I challenge them to think critically. Living without regret is impossible when you believe in Jesus. “No Regrets” is not a prescription for life; it fails miserably when you’re working to change your response to bad circumstances.
My uncle’s death in spring 2016 taught me that. My class experience was layered with tons of regret. I regretted missing my uncle’s viewing.
Forced to frame college as an obsession to cope, I was overwhelmed and couldn’t express it comfortably. When I did share, I did so with a mixture of anger and humor. I loved my uncle and struggled with the fact that my love couldn’t keep him here with me. No matter how much I protested, God took him from me anyway. I also wondered: Could I have done more to help the others in my family that fought to keep him around? His death marked the second time I was in close proximity to someone who unexpectedly exited my life.
The fact is: If you’re human, you’ll regret something. We regret things most often when we’re upset or confused. I was both those things at once when my uncle left this world. See, although we think that we can predict how our choices impact those around us, we never see the full weight of those choices until several things have changed. My grandma’s continued sickness from stroke and my uncle’s death were heavy weights that collapsed onto me while I was trying to get through the day to day stress of class time. Suddenly, my brain was flooded with questions I couldn’t answer.
Was God leaving me alone to punish me for something? Had I truly done “everything” to help my uncle? I wondered was there anything else that I might have done to let him know he meant something special to me. I regretted some of the hurtful things I told him in anger. Were those the things that caused him to be taken away from me? Regret is the central idea behind repentance.
When we regret something, we admit our sorrows and acknowledge that we can still with inflict harm on others with our words and actions. When we repent of those regrets, we act to change the things we regret. However, expressing no regret produces apathy; an emotion expressed when we lose the ability to share in the pain of others.
Am I saying we should start feeling sorry for everything all the time? Of course, I’m not. I’m saying there’s a delicate balance between regret and apathy, and while boundaries protect us, confidence can easily give way to pride and un-forgiveness. My uncle’s death reminds me that knowledge and ability are worthless if we are stuck in a spiral of regret and apathy. If faith is exercised by what we hear repeatedly in our self-talk and our self-talk is filled with regret and apathy, those unresolved issues can destroy us inside.
To repent properly is to not allow regret and apathy to block you from life’s wonderful opportunities. We’ve only got a limited amount of time in the world, so why not spend the time we have looking for ways to bring about peace, love, and mercy into the world. Death often pushes us to consider what things we could have done better, but why should people have to die before we forgive them and show them compassion. I’ll never tell myself that I don’t have regrets. Higher purpose is not the absence of regret. Higher purpose is using the power of regret to forgive, to love, and ultimately to restore.