Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
That won’t let you forget
These opening lines from a song by Matthew West capture how I have felt for a good part of my life. All of us have things we regret, especially by the time we have passed the half century mark. We often wonder what our lives would have been like if we had….. Fill in the blank – finished college, married someone else, moved to a different town, been a better parent or friend or daughter – The list can go on and on. And often we can feel worse if we think we have let someone down, like our parents or even God.
For the past 28 years I’ve been tormented by regret that I acted hastily in withdrawing from a job interview for a chaplaincy position, something I had worked toward for 6 years. Keith and I were newly married and had just moved to Calhoun. I had left a job in Birmingham as a hospice chaplain and felt that I needed a break from the intensity of working with terminal cancer patients, but as the years went by the opportunity did not come up again. I was busy raising Adam and eventually decided to become a school media specialist. Although I enjoy my job, I’ve agonized over feeling that I missed out on what God wanted me to do with my life and that He was disappointed in me. He and I have had many conversations on this topic, but in my heart I still felt the same.
All of this came back to me last week when I attended the annual meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the group that bravely broke from the Southern Baptist Convention exactly 25 years ago. I also “broke” with the Baptists when I started attending the Methodist church, so I felt oddly out of place yet at home at the same time. I spent quality time with some women I had been in seminary with in the days when we were young and ready to conquer the world. They have persevered against the sexism and small-mindedness of the 80’s and have had successful careers as chaplains and as a university administrator.
On the second day, I attended a breakfast meeting with people who are committed to ending all sorts of injustices, such as helping innocent people on death row and fighting prejudice against the LGBT community. As I listened I felt overwhelmed at how little I was doing with my life and later I had a breakdown, crying while my friend Mera, the most empathetic person I know, listened patiently. The tears erupted out of me unexpectedly, as grief sometimes does. I sobbed out my guilt over not sticking with the chaplaincy and over leaving the Baptists, who had been my family all my life. Being with these old friends had given me a glimpse of what “could have been.” The cry and Mera’s listening ear did me good. I felt some healing begin.
So I was happy to be back at my church a few days later, after having been gone for several Sundays. I was greeted with hugs and a sense that I had been missed. The children’s sermon was from John 21, when Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples by the lake after his resurrection. I have always related to Peter and I was thinking about how devastated he must have felt after denying Jesus on that horrible night in the courtyard, when he was confused and terrified and exhausted. He must have played it over and over in his mind. Then, as he and some of the other disciples are out fishing – returning to what they know – Jesus shows up and helps them catch more fish than they had ever seen. When Peter realizes it is the Lord on the shore, he jumps in the water with his clothes on, swimming to Him. Jesus has a fire going and cooks the disciples some fish. Then He has a conversation with Peter that has always perplexed me, but now I see it in a new light.
Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”, and when Peter gives the impassioned “Lord you know I do,” Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.” He repeats this 3 times, so that it will go into Peter’s brain and heart. What Jesus was letting Peter know was that the only thing that was important – the only thing – was that Peter loved Him. The denial in the courtyard was unimportant as far as Jesus was concerned. It was old news, in the past. What was vital was that Peter get to work spreading the Gospel, sharing his experiences about Jesus, encouraging the disciples and following the Holy Spirit, which was about to descend upon them. “Feed my lambs.”
What if Peter had continued to wallow in his guilt and hurt over how he had turned his back on Jesus? Would he have been able to accomplish all that he did? No, instead he chose to listen to Christ and let all that go. We see him immediately take a leadership role with the remaining disciples and go on to be a champion for bringing Gentiles into the Christian movement. I believe that awful night in the courtyard was always with him, but he concentrated on what was ahead.
I have often let regrets over the past pull me down and take my focus off of the present. God doesn’t have one path for each of us to take to be able to work for Him, but multiple forks in the road that have opportunities. Spending time worrying about the past is wasted energy.
When I came back from my time with my friends at the CBF meeting, I felt God saying to me, “So, did you get all that ‘poor pitiful me’ stuff out of your system? Good, now let’s get to work.”
And suddenly I saw lots to do.