The advancing years are times when our regrets come out from their cage and begin pecking on the walls of our brain. They can be tiny mosquitos or monster birds (or something in between), depending on their dominance in our thoughts.
My friend Mr. Webster defines “to regret” as “to be very sorry for….” The gret part comes from Old Norse and means “to weep.” The re prefix makes it a repeated state of mind. Drawn-out over time. We can regret something we did in the past or, perhaps more common, something we didn’t do. Persistent unresolved regrets can begin to march through our brains, letting the past trample the present. In classic understatement, that’s not good.
Being the different people we are, Hal’s regrets tend to take on monstrous proportions, while I bat away at mosquitos. Last week we were reflecting on our son David’s latest hiking adventure with his son (our grandson) and remembering all the great father/son things Hal did with David: week-long hikes on the Inca Trail, weekend excursions out on the Bolivian altiplano to visit small country churches, and all the shared activities that took place when Hal became assistant scout master. It was good.
But the one regret that continues to tease his brain—that he didn’t do the same thing for our daughter, Kristin. That regret can even give him a sense of failure as a father when I’m not able to talk him out of it. Actually, it did make Kristin feel bad, although we didn’t know that at the time. But, even more actual, she has forgiven him, helped, I hope, by the memory of all the fun stuff we did together while Hal and David were tramping about.
We had other failures as parents, of course. That comes with the territory. None of us does parenthood perfectly. But by God’s grace, sometimes the kids turn out well anyway. That certainly has happened in our case, and Hal and I keep reminding ourselves of that. And trying to let go of the regrets.
My friend Marcile told me the story of the time when her son was graduating from college and moving to another state for graduate studies. It was a turning point in his life, a leaving-home rite of passage. Marcile’s husband was expressing to their son his regrets at all the things he hadn’t done, including taking the time to pass on his mechanical skills so that Stan could fix his own car.
Stan responded, “Dad! You taught me how to be a friend! I have friends who can fix my car.”
Our regrets can blind us to our truer accomplishments—like passing on values to our children. Thank God for adult children who can set us straight.
I have regrets. Some of these mosquitos are peskier than others. Here’s a sample. I regret—
--that I didn’t keep up my Hebrew language studies or practicing my guitar. My Hebrew has joined the Lost Tribes of Israel, and my guitar skills are best kept private.
--that I never took the opportunity to visit Iguazu Falls, even though we lived just one country away.
--that I never learned how to cook Bolivian food.
--that I never asked my grandparents to tell me the stories of their lives. I was too busy growing up and establishing my own identity. Now they’re gone.
--More seriously, I think of people that, for one reason or another, I deliberately kept at a distance and probably hurt. A failure to love.
One of my tasks in these years is figuring out how to face and resolve my regrets. In some cases, I can actually do something to turn the regret around. I’ve found old journals and letters that are filling in some of the gaps of what I know about my grandparents; I’m writing these down to pass on to my kids. I’m currently taking guitar lessons. I could take a Hebrew class, but I probably won’t. My Bolivian friends have invited me over for some fine Bolivian meals, and I can live with that.
Iguazu Falls, and many other relatively small regrets, are just fading away. That’s what they should do.
In some areas, I’ve needed to ask for, and accept, forgiveness. And then let God’s grace carry the regret away on a Spirit wind. I’m in the process of learning how to do all of this. It doesn’t come automatically.
I love what poet Jarod Anderson wrote:
Our task is to become our truest selves and to smile
at the knowledge we will not succeed.
The key word here is smile. Relax. Let it go. Accept who and where we are now.
And I love the wisdom of Dag Hammarskjold in his journal, Markings, when he prays,
For all that has been, thanks.
For all that will be, yes.
That’s the kind of wisdom I want to grow into.