Regret has oftentimes been a major part of my mental process, and I do not recall a time when this was not the case. As a youth in junior high, I would lament my lack of diligence at reading and penmanship at ages 8-9. In high school, I would look back at the mistakes of my junior high years. In college, I was looking back at my poor choices at university, and since I graduated college, well, let’s just stay I have leveled a great deal of criticism at myself for life choices in every stage to the present (less this most recent move, strangely enough)
What I find most frustrating about this type of reflection is that I have tried to live with intentionality, diligence, and self-discipline at many stages of life that are filled with regret. People say that I am terribly hard on myself, and I don’t wholly disagree with them. I demand much of myself, as much has been given to me–mental capacities, creative tendencies, vision, hearing, taste, touch, two-hands, two-legs, a reasonable constitution, and a certain level of charisma (though I will let the reader determine just how much of that I possess). I think of the gift of life, and I cannot help be filled with a certain sense of responsibility.
And I think regret stems from having said sense but failing to capitalize on it. Frankly, in my thirty-plus years of life, I have not used the gift of time as well as I should have. Even by modern American standards that seem to embrace sloth and consumerism, I know that I have wasted time and potential. Furthermore, I believe have been placed in a position of privilege as a white person born into a middle class family in America, and to whom much is given, much is required.
But I think the regret that hits me the most is not wholly related to my personal shortcomings so much as my social shortcomings. What I mean by that is this, I’ve wronged more people than I ever thought I would have; and in more than one case, I was aware that I was doing it on some level, even while I was doing it. Now, I know that some may assume I am talking about romantic failings, and you are not wrong; but the vast majority of my social regret stems from two things beyond the romantic.
The first is that my shortcomings, whatever they were, for the better part of high school, made Christ look less attractive to many of my peers. As an outspoken Christian in public school, I was watched and held to a standard by those who felt I should have lived a certain way–and I cannot help but wonder how much damage was done to Christ’s reputation on account of my failings. I cannot help but regret the youthful chasing after popularity, approval, and certain clothes. I cannot help but regret the instances in which my pride made Christ look foolish–and frankly, those times were often–more often than I care to admit.
The second aspect of social regret that hits me is that I failed to stand for others when I should have, both in their presence and out of it. I recall a handful of instances wherein I could have put myself in the line of fire for another being teased or cajoled, but I failed to do so due to pride, fear, and a lack of love. I would give a great deal to be back in certain classrooms, able to speak on behalf of those to emotionally beaten to speak for themselves. I think of where they may be today. I wonder if the scenes are as vivid to them as they are to me (and they are vivid)
But what is the point? Regret for its own sake is sadistic. If we do look at the past and seek to act in such a way that we do not repeat it, then regret becomes nothing more than pain for its own sake. The point, really, is that if we are going to acknowledge regret, we should also strive to ensure that our behavior changes so as to avoid facing the same regret in the future. This does not mean that we may not have other, new regrets in the process of living, but the same regret should not manifest itself over and over again (that’s seems the very definition of folly).
That being said, I look forward to the next time I am challenged in such a fashion–the next time I stand for Christ in a place where he is unwelcome, the next time I see a person in need. I hope and pray that I handle it with more aplomb, that more of Christ the bold and loving emerges and less of “C.J. the insecure and cowardly” appears. Such hope demands preparation, and so we have come full circle–to live intentionally, to seek Scripture and identity in Christ now, so that when opportunity to show him more manifest arises, acting in love is a reflex and regret can find no footing. So be it.
Thanks for reading,