This week I listened as two anxious people said to me in separate conversations, “my goal is live so that I have no regrets.” I’ll bet you have heard people give voice to the abbreviated form of this mantra: “No regrets.” Maybe you have even said it yourself.
Though people often mean by this phrase that they want to live with no fear, seizing life at every opportunity, I sensed as my friends spoke that, rather than bringing the joy of freedom, the “no regrets” mantra, ironically, crushed the hearts of my friends under an impossible weight. One spoke of parenting small children, wanting to be so attentive, playful, and present to her children that she would not regret her parenting when they were raised, and the other spoke of making choices in ministry, desiring to risk for God to the degree that she would look back on her life with no regrets.
So both times when I heard these words, I felt my heart shake its head, “No.” As I slow down to consider why, I hope my reflections offer you grace.
The Unappeasable God of Self
When we decide to live so that we have no regrets, we choose a self-serving goal: striving to avoid the pain of regret. Rather than living courageously to love God, we live defensively, attempting to ward off unpleasant emotions. Focusing on self, rather than God, we inevitably miss countless opportunities to watch him at work and grow in worship.
On top of that, when we choose to serve ourselves in this way, we bow to unappeasable god. No amount of giving, risking, or loving will appease the tyrant self; I cannot live up to the standards I set for myself, and I’ll bet you can’t either. So how, living with this goal, can we escape what we have most wanted to avoid – regret?
Friends, if we are born in sin and struggle with a sinful nature all our days on earth, how can we possibly live with no regrets? I will sin. You will sin. Won’t we regret the damage we do to others and to ourselves when this happens? I hope so.
But we have a blessed place to take our regret to see it transformed into something priceless: we can bring every regret to the feet of Jesus where, by the calculus of grace, he causes us to fall more in love with him.
He who has been Forgiven Little Loves Little
When Jesus went to eat at the home of Simon the Pharisee a “sinful” woman entered the house. Her eyes spilling regret, she washed Jesus’ feet with her teardrops and dried them with her hair.
The scandalized Pharisee disparaged Jesus to himself, thinking Jesus was no prophet if he did not realize what type of woman was touching him. But Jesus knew Simon’s thoughts and challenged with him with a story of two debtors – one who owed little and one who owed much. The moneylender in Jesus’ story cancelled the debts of both men when they could not pay.
“Which of them will love him more?” Jesus asked the Pharisee.
“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven,” Simon answered.
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus responded, “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:36-50).
The woman’s sin, by the calculus of grace, turned to her blessing in the Kingdom of God because as Jesus forgave her, love for him consumed her. And Jesus tells the Pharisee that once a soul enters the Kingdom of God it is not measured by the measuring stick of perfection (no regrets) but by the measure of love: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” (Luke 22:37).
We must allow it soak into our bones that though Simon had lived with “no regrets,” the sinful woman came out more alive in the Kingdom of God.
I do not mean that we should make friends with our sin. Paul verbally skewered those who preached this way in his day: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we we who died to sin still live it it?” (Rom 6:1-2).
But I do want us free from the oppression of fearing regret, because if we collect our regrets and pour them out as teardrops on the feet of our Lord he speaks to us as he did to the woman in Simon’s house, “Your sins are forgiven,” and thereby he transforms what we regret into love for him, fitting us for his Kingdom where love for the King counts above anything else.
So I want us throw off “no regrets” and choose instead to live instead with “no regret wasted.”
Instead of living under a crushing mantra may we live with the commitment to bring every missed opportunity, sin, mistake, and fault to the feet of Jesus where – by the calculus of grace – he will transform it from shame into joyous love.
And may we leave his feet to live courageously.