I remember telling a friend on my 30th birthday, “I don’t regret a thing. Nothing. I have no regrets.” I was talking particularly about parenting. I can quickly think of lots of other things in life I regretted prior to turning 30, but at that point, I genuinely had no parenting regrets. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.
That seems a lifetime ago.
Now, if someone were to pose that question, they’d better pull up a chair and plan to spend the afternoon. Now, I have a lengthy list of regrets. An “if only” list, if you will. A “How dumb could I have been” list. I do not think I am unique in this. Actually, if you have a child older than 10 and if you don’t have such a list, I invite you to contact me. I’ll pull up a chair and sit down. You can take all afternoon telling me all the things you did right and how you avoided doing something you regret.
I suppose there are those folks who look at things that aren’t such good ideas in hindsight and instead of regretting they are grateful for them. They see the lessons learned. They see the growth. They see the great potential for change. I’d like to think I do that, too. And I do. Sometimes. When it comes to my kids, though, I hate to think that my imprudence has somehow hurt them. So, while grateful for the lessons learned, I wrestle around with regret that they were learned at the expense of my children.
I try not to get stuck there. The beauty of a big family is that if a mother regrets something she did when she was young and imprudent, she might just have a chance at a redo with a younger child. The corollary is that I don’t have the luxury of doing what some of my friends are doing as they settle into an empty nest. I can’t look at the regrets, confess the mistakes, be forgiven and relax in the grace. I have more children to raise. I want to figure it out, get it right this time, perfect the process. I try to relax in the forgiveness and beg the grace for the next leg of this long journey. I long to be still and know God, but sometimes, I just keep striving and I forget that God’s got this (Ps 46:10).
A friend who understands this sense of urgency around regret and fine-tuning parenting for the benefit of the younger siblings sent me some wisdom penned by author Carl Bard. “Although no one can go back and make a brand-new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending.” He’s right, of course.
A brand-new ending? Now there’s a hopeful prospect. How? How do I write a new ending? By holding the pen and letting God be the author.
We are sinners well practiced in examining our consciences and listing our sins so that we can confess them. But then what? Are we equally well-practiced at receiving showers of grace? Or do we think that somehow in order to get God on our sides we have to be good enough, to be free of stupid mistakes? Do we fill up with self-recrimination and think as if we must merit grace?
We don’t merit grace. Ever. We don’t have to merit grace. God promises that goodness and mercy are ours. Even in the darkest shadows, He assures us, “Indeed, goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life (Ps 23:6).” He’s pursuing us with the brand-new ending. He’s chasing after us with the story that isn’t filled with regret. This ending is the one where God sees the regretful things and offers mercy. This ending is the one where He sees the dark times and offers goodness. This is the new ending. He is hunting us down with a beautifully bound book of our lives — with the brand-new story to replace the tattered regret-filled one. And this story?
It’s entitled Grace.