I have been thinking about regrets; that often maligned emotion. In our 21st century media-driven obsession with projecting perfect, happy, successful, invulnerable lives, we often equate admitting regret with acknowledging failure and appearing weak.
At most, if pressed, we may, like the songwriter. acknowledge a few, but “too few to even mention”(1). And yet, is acknowledging failure, not the beginning of moving away from it? Show me the man who has no regrets and I will show you a man who is self-deluded. The man who has no regrets is a man who has no need of grace or redemption.
To deny that we have anything to regret is to deny the very essence of being human. “Frail children of dust”(2) that we are, are failure and faltering not inevitable? Equally, is regret not inevitable? May I suggest then that regret can be a positive acknowledgement of our frail, fumbling humanity? Is it not, inextricably, inevitably a consequence of this thing we call living.
So often when we reflect on regret, we raise connotations of wallowing futility. After all, regret can’t undo a mistake; is powerless to help us change what’s done. Indeed, but the power of regret lies not in its impact on our past but in its potential to change our present and our future.
Think of regret as a road sign. A warning borne out of past experience: “Do not proceed along this road, it’s end is disaster”. Imagine a motorist stopping at a yield sign and simply remaining on the spot. Neither retreating or proceeding. Stalled. Permanently immobilized. In short, “stuck”.
That’s the effect of regret in our lives if all we ever do is take it out, look at it and pack it away for another day. But if we heed the warning that to proceed is to repeat past failures, then regret can be the signpost that alerts us to adjust the rudder, change course and avoid looming danger.
Rather than denying and avoiding facing up to regret, in the misguided belief that acknowledging it is the reflection of a negative mindset, a weak disposition; instead of covering our regrets under a carpet of denial and or self-delusion, where it will lie in wait to trip us up, we should face up to them. We must be courageous and acknowledge regrets as signposts for navigating the road ahead and leave them where they belong, in the past.
Perhaps, instead of berating ourselves for our failures, we should be grateful for our bruised knees and egos, our faltering weaknesses that keep us ever in need of redeeming grace.
And finally, in acknowledging our regrets, let us reach out for forgiveness and find the grace to forgive both others and ourselves. For in so doing, we touch the Divine.
(1) My Way lyrics by Paul Anka
(2) Öh Worship the King by Robert Grant