I’ve been thinking about regrets lately, big and small. How devastating they can be, how they can immobilize a heart, a life, a family. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone, usually young and bright-eyed, say that he just wants to live a life with no regrets. At first this wish sounds noble and daring, if a little sentimental. It seems right, even. Carpe diem! Live your life to the fullest, miss no opportunities, check off your bucket list, hug your babies! But the longer I live the more I realize that this idea is, at best, a lot of rubbish. At worst, it’s paralyzing, causing ordinary people to fear what might be on the horizon, or dread what’s already past.
Because there is no life lived without regret. That life would have to be a perfect one, lived by a perfect person, in perfect circumstances. Indeed, we know that there was only One who could look back on his life without regret. And he wasn’t you, or me.
The kids and I finished reading the gospel of John day. In the final chapter, Jesus appears to seven of his disciples, and they are shocked and overjoyed to see him. But he singles out Peter, the one who had denied him, to offer comfort, forgiveness, and challenge. Peter, the denier. Surely he carried regret, perhaps until his dying day, for telling those idle folks around the fire pit that he did not know the Man. Jesus offers him forgiveness, and he is free from the burden of guilt thereafter. But he doesn’t undergo a lobotomy, it’s not eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. I imagine Peter always remembered what he’d done that terrible Friday. Jesus calls him to move on and become someone else, anyway.
And then later there’s Saul, persecutor of the early church. Jesus meets him, changes his name to Paul, and commands him to become someone else. And, indeed, he is transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. But I have a very hard time believing that Paul never once spent a long night in prison and experienced flashbacks of Stephen’s face as he lay dying. Paul, who had championed the martyrdom of a believer, an innocent man.
But Jesus was powerful enough to deal with Paul’s regrets. And King David’s, and Solomon’s, and Samson’s, and Rahab’s. And mine.
Instead of trying to live a life with no regrets, I want to live a life with Jesus. The more I fear making mistakes or wasting opportunities, the more I think about me. I want to make peace, instead, with this bald, ugly truth: on my deathbed, I will look back over my life, and I will have some regrets. I don’t know how many, and I hope not thousands. But there will be some. There is no way around this. But even then, on my last day, I want to fix my eyes on Jesus, who will cover my regret with his grace, and usher me into his presence.
On that day I’ll be too busy being happy to grieve over what might have been.