‘There’s just no point in wasting time looking back’.
He stood at the front of the school hall, staring down the barrel of an audience of nervous, eager parents hanging on his every word like support ropes. An ex-cop with so many stories under his well-weathered belt, stories of struggle and hardship, those of others, and his own, tangled together, etched into the lines on his face and tremor of his voice.
The school had brought him in to talk to us about parenting, about what he’d learnt working with young offenders caught up in the criminal system —kids he’d met, kids he’d locked heads and hearts and sometimes bones with —and how communication always trumped condemnation in the end.
Apparently he’d had the school staff in tears just hours earlier, this tough guy who used expletives generously and had been knocked out and knocked down more than enough times, but wanted most of all to spread this: a message of hope.
Hope that the best way NOT to perpetuate offence was to drop defence for a bit and listen.
He was talking about our own kids, in line to become the teenagers and young adults of tomorrow, and how to help them navigate this messy world that’s sure to trip them, to want to un-fix them.
But REALLY, you could feel it in the room, hear it in the uncomfortable shuffling and shifting in the child-sized plastic seats, he was talking about all of us.
Because don’t we all need to be reminded that our errors and wrong turns don’t have to ground us, define us, that there’s always another way to view things, another way through and forward?
Don’t we all need to exercise compassion and understanding? On others. On our own tried, battered hearts.
There are so many obstacles in this world to love, to growth, to a future, but lately I’ve been wondering if the ones we create inside ourselves are so often the most powerful barriers of all.
We all carry our stories, the ones you may not see at first on the outside. Good stories, bad stories, the memorable and the forgettable. But like rocks in water, it seems the heaviest stories so-often sink the deepest.
Take me, a thirty-eight year old woman without a driver’s license. I may be able to put ‘Dr’ in front of my name, but what good is that when I can’t yet drive my kids to school?
Hear the silent engine of regret.
Take me, surrounded by beautiful friends, and family. So many marvellous people like gifts dropped from heaven. Why haven’t I spent more time with them, been a better wife, daughter, friend, sister-in-law, aunty, God mother?
Hear the congested heart-ways of regret.
Take me, a writer who fears she’s placed too many pencils in one basket. Why did I choose writing as my ‘career path’ (anyone who’s been in the game more than five minutes knows how tremulous and precarious this avenue is). Why not something better, more solid, more profitable?
Here the keyboard tapping down the sentence of regret
And then, I haven’t even mentioned parenting yet. My kids are only five, three and two years old and I’m already having parental regrets the size and smell of the overflowing daily laundry pile and I can only imagine there’s more to come.
In case you haven’t got the point yet, I have my particular regrets, and I have a hunch that maybe you might have yours too.
It was the wise man who first told it to me straight and true:
You don’t want to go through life dragging a sackful of failure behind you.
I wonder if part of regret is our desire for visible, quantifiable results. Perhaps the problem in fact lies in the mis-location of our source of validation. If I did have the book contract, the license, the ticks against my name as ‘Best friend/family member/relative’ what then? Would I be happy, fulfilled? Finished? I have a feeling I’d still have the same hunger, the same restlessness. Because as long as this old world turns dissatisfaction turns with it. And if we aren’t careful we can get stuck on the carousel, go dizzy with the spinning.
But what if instead we chose to see things differently? Step off regret road and re look at our co-ordinates.
As a believer regret makes me confront my core foundations. If I believe, as I profess to, in a God of radical love, then this should reframe everything in my life, even —especially— the personal, particular, knotty narratives I tell myself. If He’s pronounced me forgiven, then this isn’t a feel-good one-liner that fades with time, but a reality I dwell in daily.
Those aspects and angles of my life story that I’m tempted to view as dead-ends, mess-ups, slip-ups, wrong turns, failures of character, choice, research, impulse: all of it, any of it, is actually redeemable. Renewable. Even when I can’t see how. As Dr M often reminds me in words he himself heard from a friend, ‘God is a great recycler.’ The master renovator. Those things we thought were ruins, may in fact be his key building materials.
Further, I need to reevaluate my valuation standards. When I think about the Saviour walking on earth, loving mixed up, minced up, muddled up failures, I meet a God who doesn’t care so much about degrees, numbers, publications, ticks or crosses, but who instead cares about the most beautiful, fragile, intricate —and yes, complicated— pieces in the universe—human hearts.
What if instead of sticking stubbornly to regret road, gaze turned inward, backward, we instead look up and forward in faith, and send that sack of failure packing. Send IT to the lockup, and set our hearts free.