Or at least, not very many.
I think “regret” is sometimes given too much space. There is a place for regret–for reflection that causes me to look back and learn from mistakes and make changes that help me do things differently in the future. However, that, I think, fits more with the word “remorse” than it does with “regret”.
As awful as some situations have been in my life, I think I have fewer regrets than many people are comfortable with. People look at my situation (or their own) and wonder, “What could have been done differently? How could this have been avoided? Who did what wrong to make this happen?” And, sometimes, that type of questioning is helpful and (very) occasionally, there are some answers.
But, more often than not, I find that out of this kind of questioning comes an obsession with needing to place blame, and, in the end, that blame is often contrived and misplaced.
With my children, I like to move them away from thinking they have to find somewhere (or someone) on which to place blame when they are upset. I want them to ask in any troubling situation, “What is my responsibility?” and beyond that, to be able to let go of the need to find where blame can (or even should) be placed.
For me, at least (and I hope, for them), this frees me from needing to localize and intensify anger onto another. Yes, there are clearcut situations where someone else is to blame (for example, an accident caused by a drunk driver, for example), but, even in those situations, I tend to think in terms of responsibility. Legally, justice should happen. Relationally, responsibility should be taken. If responsibility isn’t taken in a situation, relationship may not be able to be restored. However, I can continue to walk with grief and sorrow, but without being further destroyed by anger that eats me up. I find that a focus on blame (even when blame is clear) is not so much inaccurate as it is unhelpful and counterproductive.
So, what does this have to do with regrets? I guess that when I think about things this way, I’m not so much living in the reality of what should or could be. I have a lot of grief and many longings I feel deeply. But, I let myself live with the reality of those things being reality, and do not try to resolve them by regretting what I or someone else has done to “create” today’s pain. Today’s pain just is. And today’s pain is part of what draws me closer to God, refines my longing for heaven, and increases my sensitivity to other people’s pain. I don’t like today’s pain, and I wish things would be different, but I do not regret or feel a need to retroactively fight against what created today’s pain.
I think I may be a little strange in this (and I’m glad not everyone is like me, because a lot of things that are wrong and should be changed might never be changed!)
So, in a sense, my desire to not give much space to “blame” affects not only my ability to forgive others and move on, but also how I walk with regards to my own mistakes.
In my “no regrets” philosophy, it’s not that I think we should ignore mistakes or wrongs. I’m not talking about pretending in a Pollyanish way that all is okay. And I’m certainly not talking about disregarding or minimizing wrongdoing or the need to make restitution and take responsibility. But I am talking about making more space to not be perfect.
I think we would have fewer regrets if we :
(1) entered into everything we did, fully aware that we are not perfect, and so the given and norm is that we will not always get it right
(2) remembered that God really is in control–it’s not just that He is in control of other people and I do not need to fear what they can do to me, but also that He is in control enough that I’m not going to singlehandedly mess up His plan for my life, my family or even the world when I don’t get it right or do it perfectly or manage to successfully solve every problem. I will fall short as a parent, but my children’s functioning in life and ability to relate to God and other people does not solely depend on me (Again, I’m not minimizing personal responsibility and the weight of parenting wisely. I am saying, though, I won’t do it perfectly, and God is big enough and sovereign enough that my imperfections will not override his ability to work in my children’s lives).
(3) could keep in mind that it’s not all about me. I’m not God’s only resource for solving this problem or impacting this person or doing this task.
(Thanks to Ilona at True Grit for pushing the button in my emotional brain on the topic of “regret” in a post, which was actually on a different topic. )