There is a lot of pain in this world. I know that in the short twenty years I’ve lived I have only really scratched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to experiencing pain and hurt. I also know that, by God’s grace, there is a lot of suffering I shall never have to endure. But of all the experiences I have known, regret is no doubt the most painful. Regret is a faithful, antagonizing companion and it’s one I’ve had to learn to live with especially during the last year. Losing a loved one has a way of casting your life in a light that makes you wonder if you ever had any perspective at all. I don’t think I did.
I don’t think I really loved anyone before last year. I only loved when it was easy and convenient. But love is not love that has yet to be tried by the fires of weariness, regret, temptation and conflict, tried and found true and faithful. You don’t love until you hit a brick wall and learn to either scale it or push through. You don’t love until you’re on your knees begging forgiveness. You don’t love until it comes down to a choice between your pride and sin or the other person...and you choose the other person.
It was the words I wish I could take back and the words that I should have said but never did and never will. It was the things we said we would do but never made time to. It was the kindness I should have shown and the love I should have expressed. It was the forgiveness I should have asked for. It was the barriers and divisions I had no right to put between us. This is the path to regret. This is the lonely road we all recklessly wander when we fail to love.
Life is not about avoiding pain at all cost. We should never intentionally inflict pain upon ourselves, but I think pain can be a good instructor, a necessary teacher, one that we too often try to undermine. In order to avoid the pain of guilt and regret we have to endure a different kind of pain, the pain of repentance and humility. And if you’re anything like me, you’re probably proficient at avoiding the latter and remarkably skilled at heaping up the former onto yourself. One of the hard lessons I’ve learned through regret is to ask for forgiveness and to seek forgiveness as quickly as possible. Reconciliation is a bit of a foreign concept in our society. Emotional and physical distance between us and our problems is the norm. I don’t think we realize that by avoiding the pain of repentance and humility we’re heaping coals of regret and guilt on our heads. Don’t erect barriers between people. Don’t draw lines in the sand where Jesus hasn’t drawn any lines. Go and seek reconciliation.
I’m only saying this because this is something I really fail at. I do this all the time. I do it to my brothers and sisters, my parents, my brothers and sisters in Christ—the people I should be closest to, the people I should be quickest to reconcile with. I recently attended a youth retreat where the subject of the weekend was reconciliation. One of the points the pastor made struck all too close to home. He said, "Don't build barriers that Jesus hasn't put there and don't take down barriers that Jesus has erected." Sometimes there are things that should divide us, things like unrepentant sin and false teaching, but oftentimes Christians divide themselves over differences that, while are still differences, shouldn't break our fellowship. Needless to say, the lectures were convicting. Reconciliation is something we as followers of Jesus Christ constantly struggle with. But if we really expect the world to recognize us for the love we have toward one another, reconciliation is something we have to become proficient at.
Another hard lesson I’ve learned is to not waste words. Words spoken in anger and spite are words wasted. Honesty is essential for friendships and healthy relationships but sometimes in order to love someone you should not tell them how you honestly feel about them. This is a tricky one for me. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish whether the problem is with me or if the problem is with someone else. Do I feel this way because someone has legitimately done me wrong? Do I need to confront my brother’s sin? Or do I feel this way because I’m proud and spiteful? Usually there's sin on both sides. It’s not an easy distinction to make, but I will say that I would rather have my emotions trampled on than to say something hurtful and spiteful, something I will inevitably regret. Don't forget that a soft answer turns away wrath (Prov. 15:1).
Love isn't about what's fair. Think of the kindness and love Jesus has toward us! I recently watched the live action “Cinderella” for the first time and I have to say that I was pretty amazed. I’m a sucker when it comes to fairy tales, but a fairy tale where the theme is “have courage and be kind” is pretty much the most inspiring, tear-jerking cinematic experience. Here is a heroine who doesn’t follow her dreams. She sacrifices her self-interests and instead holds fast to kindness and courage even when kindness isn’t working out for her. It made me reflect on how quick I am to shed the truth when the truth doesn’t produce the results I want. How quick am I to abandon love, kindness and forgiveness when the consequences look like me inevitably losing?
It’s tempting to strive for what we deserve, to withhold kindness from those who aren’t worthy of our kindness. While Jesus teaches us to not cast our pearls before swine, He also tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 7:6, Matt 5:43-48). Remember that Christ loved us while we were yet sinners, when we were as undeserving as they come (Rom. 5:6-8). Because of Jesus’ love for us, we should extend kindness, forgiveness and grace freely, uninhibitedly. I love how Cinderella pairs courage with kindness (yes, I’m still on Cinderella. I think I’ll be on it for a few months still). When I fail to be kind it’s usually out of fear, fear of not getting what I want, fear of having my kindness spurned, fear of being hurt, fear of having my friendship dismissed...but then I realize what I’m saying and I stop myself. Kindness, humility and forgiveness are things we should never regret no matter how much we lose or are hurt as a result.
Ultimately we have to remember where our hope is in this life. Our hope is not in passing through death without any regrets. Our hope is not in feeling good and content with ourselves and all our decisions. Our hope is in the redemptive life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the mercy He extends to us in taking our sin upon Himself. As children of God who are hidden away in Christ, we have the power to rejoice in our regrets because they are what drive us to repent and seek forgiveness in our Savior.