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LIVING WITHOUT REGRETS

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The Lord says, 'Forget about what has happenend before, do not think about the past, instead look at the new thing I am going to do.' -Isaiah 43:18-19

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

Philippians 3: 7-16, 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11, Romans 8: 28

PANG HUI'S STORY

The year I turned eighteen I eloped with a man from another county.[1] Later, I gave birth to three daughters. My husband was a gambler and a drunkard and boozed until he was completely legless every day. When he lost money he'd come home and beat up his wife and children. One of those awful beatings three years ago made me determined to leave him, and that's how I started my life as a migrant worker.

I don't have much education and I couldn't find any decent job. I couldn't, and I didn't want to do those jobs where you had to sell body and soul, so all I could do was go to a construction site and cook for the workers there. Those construction workers were also migrants, living by selling their physical labour. The only thing different was that they were men. Each day I was responsible for preparing three meals for over a hundred people. The hard work can easily be imagined, but I wasn't really afraid of hard work. What I was afraid of was lack of respect from those men. Among them, some used filthy, disgusting language with me, some made passes at me, and some made a big show of urinating in front of me. During the day it wasn't so bad, but every night, lying down in the workshed, with the wind coming in from all sides, I never dared to take off my clothes, really afraid those men would do something to me.

Lying on the plank bed, I couldn't sleep, thinking about my family. I didn't want to return, but my three daughters were always on my mind. Would her dad be able to pay the school fees for the oldest girl? Had the second girl recovered from her epilepsy? And was the third one still wetting her bed?... Every night I would think about them for a long time before I went to sleep, and as soon as the sky grew light, I had to get up and prepare the breakfast. My wage was 150 yuan[2] per month, but for someone like me who had come out to work for the first time, it was quite a large sum. Four months went by and apart from buying three packets of sanitary napkins and one bag of washing powder, which cost me eight yuan, I kept the remaining 592 yuan in my pocket next to my skin. I hoped to use the money to pay for my older daughter's school fees and the second daughter's medicine...

After four months of life as a migrant worker, I gradually got used to the environment and came to understand those men. Even though they were crude people they were not bad. Their dirty talk was an outlet for their pent up feelings. It wasn't easy for them to leave home and come out to work either. So I was no longer on my guard. Occasionally I would answer back when they talked dirty. Not only did they not get angry, it would make them happy. Perhaps it was because there were too few women in their lives. I often helped them to mend and wash their clothes. And they used their spare time to help me fetch the water and wash the vegetables. Eventually I won their respect through my own efforts. Once, someone found me a job painting. The pay was better than cooking, but those workers would not let me go, no matter what. They said they only wanted to eat the food I cooked. If the money was not enough, they would be willing to make it up by each taking a bit out of their pay. So I stayed working on the construction site.

In the blink of an eye it was winter and the construction site stopped work. I decided to go home. I thought that after half a year of absence my husband would have changed, but I was wrong. When I got home, carrying my cherished money that I'd earned with blood and sweat, the first thing my husband said was: 'You shameless thing, how dare you come back. No old bags who go out to work ever come home intact. I'd rather be a bachelor than a cuckold. Even if we were dying of poverty, I wouldn't take the dirty money you earned. Get out!' I said to him: 'My money is clean,' but he wouldn't listen and pushed me out the door. I shook all over and it wasn't the wind from the mountains that made me shiver. I secretly gave the money to my oldest daughter who chased after me in tears, and once more took the road away from home. It was different from the last time. Having experienced life as a migrant worker before, I was no longer ignorant about the outside world, my steps were no longer as hesitant, and I believed at heart: no matter what happened, I would go on living, living without complaint, regret or shame.

I am a cloud, destined to float around in this life. I do not know where the wind will blow me next.

[1] Pang Hui's story was originally published in Nongjianü Baishitong [Rural Women Knowing All], 8, (1999): 28-29, translated by Tamara Jacka and Song Xianlin. [2] One yuan = US$0.1.

WHAT IS REGRET?

'The Exploding Dictionary' (http://projects.ghostwheel.com/dictionary/) says it's:

'Pain of mind on account of something done or experienced in the past, with a wish that it had been different; a looking back with dissatisfaction or with longing; grief; sorrow; especially, a mourning on account of the loss of some joy, advantage, or satisfaction.'

Syn: Grief; concern; sorrow; lamentation; repentance; penitence; self-condemnation.

Usage: {Regret}, {Remorse}, {Contrition}, {Repentance}. Regret does not carry with it the energy of remorse, the sacredness of contrition, or the practical character of repentance. We even apply the term regret to circumstances over which we have had no control, as the absence of friends or their loss. When connected with ourselves, it relates rather to unwise acts than to wrong or sinful ones. --C. J. Smith.

Regret is an interesting feeling or state of mind. Some philosophers say feeling regret is irrational, or even immoral. But surely in some situations regret is appropriate. If we have done something wrong, or stupid, 'regret' is our conscience or mind telling us that we shouldn't do it again!

In general regrets may result from:

The Christian Gospel has an antidote for guilt - faith and forgiveness; and for shame - love and grace; and for failure and despair - hope.

THAT'S LIFE!

Life wasn't meant to be easy... yes, yes, yes... but when you get to be in your 50s, 60s, 70s, (sometimes earlier than your 50s) one of the recurring disappointments haunting us is all about 'what could have been'... The self-talk begins with words 'If only... if only... if only...'

Or 'If I'd had more sense/luck/whatever, I should have...'

The Regretter's lingo is littered with 'would haves/should haves/could haves.' It's all right for John Powell to say 'Don't should on yourself', or for St. Paul to talk about 'forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on...' (Philippians 3: 13-14) but most of us can't forget stupid decisions we made in the past - or stupid things we said, or stupid ways we reacted to the actions and words of others - and these mistakes have altered our destinies.

We can't undo what has happened (or can we???) but those things haunt us nevertheless...

Recently my wife Jan and I took a leisurely four-month tour around Australia. We loved the desert-areas of our wide brown land. But it came as a reminder to me that in deserts throughout time and space not only is God there, but the devil is there too. All the 'Desert fathers and mothers' encountered demons in the desert.

One of the attacks these demons mount against us to destroy our confidence in God and ourselves has to do with regrets and disappointments.

For example, with nothing much else to think about, thoughts came to my mind about stupid things I've said from time to time. I can now think of about six Christian organizations or areas of ministry where I'll never be invited back because of a couple of mis-timed words spoken in my more youthful, exhuberant days. 'If only,' I said to myself, 'If only I'd been more disciplined/careful/gentle...'

The poet Ed Sissman wrote-

"Men past forty

Get up nights

Look out at city lights

And wonder why life is so long

And where they made the wrong turn."

[Gordon MacDonald, 'Midcourse Correction' (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 20 00), p. xiii].

When I was a child I used to regret not having a bicycle. When a teenager I regretted that my father didn't know anything; and that I wasn't encouraged to play more sport. As a kid I regretted having to practise on the piano - but later I regretted those regrets 'cos I enjoyed playing the piano when I got better at it!

Perhaps you regret

Regrets are strange things. We regret some things we could not have changed; we regret things that are now beyond our control...

Chronic regret, wrote someone, is a maximum security prison. Its iron bars are forged from our memories, our guilty consciences, our grief. Regret is not just about the past, though it often begins there. Decisions or actions you made a while back determined where you are today and limit where you will be tomorrow. You wish you had done things differently or chosen a different path.

Regret may be a prison. But unlike most cells, there is no lock on the door. We are our own jailers. Regret is not always healthy and chronic regret is not God's plan for us. We can open that door and be free. We get one chance at this business called living: shame to spoil it with chronic regrets...

We have our childhood dreams: we're going to change the world, live a happy life; and we land into middle-age with a thud and realize the world and our histories have changed us in ways we don't like...

Guy Doud had a woman who sat in his office with her face buried in her hands. She was weeping and she was repeating over and over, 'If only I could turn the clock back. . . . If only I could turn the clock back.' [Guy Rice Doud, 'Living Beyond Regrets' (Colorado Springs,CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1997), p. 51].

(Have you ever wondered what went through Hitler's mind as he killed himself?)

A woman in New York sold her family's jewelry for a dime. She didn't do it intentionally. It happened after she took the precious gems out of the safety deposit box to wear to a wedding. The bank was closed for the weekend, so she put the jewels in an old shaving case and stuffed it inside another box. In time she forgot all about the jewels. When her friend was collecting items for a garage sale, she gave her the shaving case. By the time the woman realized what she had done, the valuable heirlooms had been sold to an unknown buyer for 10 cents.

HOWEVER...

The most dramatic suicide-through-regret in the Bible is, of course, that of Judas Iscariot...

But Judas' greatest mistake was not betraying his Lord. His greatest mistake was not going to the cross to ask for and receive forgiveness. Regret does not have to say the last word.

Living negatively in the the past is demoralizing. (Have you heard about the poor man in Denver who was stricken with a strange mental illness that forced him to walk backwards all the time?' Predictably, his form of hysteria ended him up in hospital).

God has arranged the universe to encourage creatures to start afresh. Almost everything is renewable. The motto of our little counseling practice is 'It's never too late to have a happy childhood.'

I read today of a book written by a 102-year-old African American who learned to read and write at 98!

In theological college I had a teacher who wrote on to the blackboard: 'Don't just do something, sit there! (Then do something!)' It's called the 'reflection/action' model. Always think before acting. It is better to sleep on what you plan to do than to be kept awake by what you've done. If you need to write a strong letter, write it, get it out of your system, then tear it up. Or check with an experienced Christian friend about its wording, and the wisdom or otherwise of sending it!

HOPE

The Bible's answer to regret over the past - for an individual or a church - is, in one word, HOPE.

Humans are 'hopeful beings'. Where there's hope there's life. That's because our God is a 'God of hope' (Romans 15:13). 'My hope is in the Lord' was the Psalmists' confident affirmation.

Hope is so much an essential part of Christianity that Paul says without it the Christian is the most miserable of all persons (1 Corinthians 15:19).

In fact, the notion of hope is woven like a golden thread through the whole fabric of God's creation. An experiment by psychologists at the University of North Carolina found that rats soon drowned if they were put in a large bottle without an apparent escape. But put the rat in a jar with the lid half cut away, and it will swim for about 36 hours before drowning from exhaustion!

Hope is more than optimism. The New Testament talks about the 'patience of hope'. Christian hope is deep; mere optimism may be shallow. Optimism may be a good natural trait - and have no religious connections at all. 'Hope', says John Macquarrie in his little book The Humility of God, 'is humble, trustful, vulnerable. Optimism is arrogant, brash, complacent... Our hope is not that in spite of everything we do, all will turn out for the best. Our hope is rather that God is with us and ahead of us, opening a way in which we can responsibly follow.'

YES!

'I don't know Who - or what - put the question. I don't know when it was put. I don't remember answering. But, at some moment, I did say Yes to Someone - or Something - and from that hour I was certain that existence and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.' (Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, Tr. W H Auden and Leif Sjoberg, London: Faber and Faber, 1964, p.169.)

Have you heard of Jean-Dominique Bauby? He was a Frenchman, editor-in-chief of the magazine, Elle. In 1995, at the age of 43, he suffered a massive stroke that left him completely and permanently paralyzed, a victim of what's called 'locked-in syndrome.' Here was a man who had been gregarious and witty, who was now unable to move or talk. He was totally dependent on hospital staff and equipment for all his bodily functions, but his brain remained unscathed, and he discovered that the only muscle in his body still under his control was his left eyelid. By blinking with that eye in response to a special alphabet, he let the outside world know that his mind was alive and well inside its immobile body.

By blinking and through sheer determination and will power, Bauby shared what it was like to be in his condition. At one point he referred to himself as 'a working brain in a jar.' In addition, he wrote a book entitled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which is a wonderful tribute to the human spirit. He also helped form an association for victims of locked-in syndrome and their families.

Christopher Reeve, in his book, Still Me, talks about playing Superman, and the glib definition he used to have of what a hero was. In those days, he said: 'A hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences.' But since the accident that has left him paralyzed, he has changed it to: 'A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.'

I think he's right.

'The human capacity to fight back will always astonish doctors and philosophers. It seems, indeed, that there are no circumstances so bad and no obstacles so big that we cannot conquer them.' (Jean Tetreau ).

LIFE-DREAMS

Like most 15-year-olds, John Goddard had a wealth of heart-pumping dreams. One ordinary day in 1940, he bothered to write 127 of his life dreams on a pad of yellow paper. Most lists like that wind up in the attic with old report cards and letters from grandma. John's became a blueprint for life.

In 1972, Life magazine reported that, at age 47, he had achieved 103 of his original dreams. That article, entitled 'One Man's Life of No Regrets,' detailed his Master Dream List and became one of the most requested reprints in Life's long history. His list included a vast spectrum of dreams, including the following: visiting eight world-class rivers; studying 12 primitive cultures; climbing 16 of the tallest mountains; carrying out careers in medicine and exploration; visiting every country in the world; learning to fly an airplane; becoming an Eagle Scout; riding in a blimp, balloon, and glider; playing the flute and the violin; going on a church mission; teaching a college course; becoming a member of the Explorer's Club; and many more.

'When I was 15,' he told the Life reporter, 'all the adults I knew seemed to complain, "Oh, if only I'd done this or that when I was younger." They let life slip by them. I was sure that if I planned for it, I could have a life of excitement and fun and knowledge.'

Before editor and essayist Norman Cousins died, he wrote, 'The tragedy of life is not death, rather, it is what we allow to die within us while we live.'

What dreams do you need to actualize in order to live a life of no regrets?

Hope is not conditional upon trouble being removed. Hope means God is with us in trouble and in triumph. Resurrection hope means God is with us in life and death. Hope means the God who was with his people in the past will be with them always.

Christ has died, and we have died with him. Christ is risen, and with him we have passed from death to life. Inside that tomb with the grave clothes we have left our tears, our failures, our regrets, our long-cherished resentments, our broken promises, our shabby respectability. Easter is our personal deliverance from sin and death. It is the risen Christ speaking your name and mine.

The resurrection of Jesus is God's great announcement to us that life can begin again...

STALAG 3A

'In February 1945,' says one observer, 'I was one of hundreds of British and American POWs thrust into Stalag 3A at Luckenwalde, just outside Berlin. Unlike us, who rated some protection under the Geneva Convention, the Russians were helpless. Underfed, denied medical attention and forced to do hard labour, their death rate was staggering. Although we had no communication with their compound, each morning we watched in fascinated horror while a truck collected its daily quota of corpses.

'The days of tribulation ended on April 22, 1945, when we were all liberated by the Ukrainian army. Within hours, the Russian barracks in Stalag 3A were emptied; hundreds went off to fight again, while those too sick to volunteer remained behind. We then entered the Russian compound. It was a scene of indescribable horror. But in the heart of a barracks block they had wrought a miracle - they had built a church.

'We stood breathless. A great golden crucifix flashed from the altar, its radiance reflected in prismed chandeliers hung the length of the nave. The windows were a splendour of stained glass, and along the walls were the Stations of the Cross, fashioned in coloured mosaic. It seemed incongruous. How could starving, dying men have created so magnificent a place of worship? Then we looked closer and all was explained. The golden crucifix was two pieces of slim timber, painstakingly sheathed in gold-foil paper salvaged from the refuse dump. The chandeliers were creations of thousands of tiny slips of cardboard, each covered with silver paper and suspended by almost invisible threads. The stations of the cross were crafted not from Florentine porcelain tile but from bits of coloured paper snipped from magazines rescued from rubbish bins.

In the constant presence of death, and from scraps gleaned from the dump, they had built a church. God had illumined it with a divine authenticity.'

[Source Unknown: originally an article in The Readers' Digest].

BORDEN OF YALE

In 1904 a child of wealth, William Borden, heir to the Borden Dairy Estate, graduated from a Chicago high school a millionaire. His parents gave him a trip around the world. Traveling through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe gave Borden a burden for the world's hurting people. Writing home, he said, 'I'm going to give my life to prepare for the mission field.' When he made this decision, he wrote in the back of his Bible two words: No Reserves. Turning down high paying job offers after graduation from Yale University, he entered two more words in his Bible: No Retreats. Completing studies at Princeton Seminary, Borden sailed for China to work with Muslims, stopping first at Egypt for some preparation. While there he was stricken with cerebral meningitis and died within a month. A waste, you say! Not in God's plan. In his Bible underneath the words No Reserves and No Retreats, he had written the words No Regrets. [The Daily Bread, Dec 31, 1988].


ISSUES FOR DISCUSSION

Choose some of the following:

1. Bible Study: Using 1 Peter 1:1-9 as your text, develop a sermon/study on the subject of hope. Here are some suggested headings: biblical hope is certain, living, a resurrection hope, and it's practical. Study the background of this epistle: to whom was the author writing about hope? What might have been their circumstances? How can we be encouraged to 'live in hope'?

2. 'Without the event of the third day, hope would have no grounds for understanding Good Friday as 'good' or Holy Saturday as 'holy'. Jesus would have been one more good man, swallowed up in defeat and death. But because of what we have come to call 'the resurrection', Christian hope understands the death of Jesus as the manifestation of God's transforming love touching our existence at its most hopeless point. Such hope understands his being dead as the power of that compassionate love to penetrate the depths of human defeat and isolation in order to engender a new creation.' (Tony Kelly, Touching the Infinite, Blackburn: Collins Dove, 1991, p.105).

Here's the best clue to dealing with regrets. Why?

3. Pang Hui: 'No matter what happened, I would go on living, living without complaint, regret or shame.' How do you get to be like that?

4. 'Stop a rumor or gossip instead of passing it on.' How can we learn to be more disciplined here?

5. Paul regularly reiterated his regretful pre-Damascus Road doings: see 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Galatians 1:13, Acts 22:4-5, Acts 26:11 etc. What can we do with the 'junk' in our lives before we found the Lord (or even _since_ we found the Lord, for that matter!)?

6. Try to make sense of Samuel Butler's statement: 'I believe that he was really sorry that people would not believe he was sorry that he was not more sorry.'

7. 'Let regrets be your instructor, not interrogator.' What does this mean?

8. A single woman comes to you for counseling. Her story: 'I fell in love with a terrific guy - he was sensitive, caring, a good listener. But after two years he told me he didn't "love" me, and didn't know why. In fact he didn't think he knew what "romantic love" was. We're still good friends, but after six months my heart is still broken. I regret sometimes ever getting to know him: he took me out of circulation for two years! Will I get over it?' How would you help?

9. 'To be free, to be able to stand up and leave everything behind -- without looking back. To say Yes -- .' Dag Hammarskjöld. How do you get to be like that?

10. Remember Esau? (See Genesis 25:29-34). He sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a pot of stew. Later he realized that he had bartered away something of great value, because in those days the firstborn received a double inheritance, and father Isaac had substantial assets. Exchanging something of great value for something worthless is actually quite common. Can you think of some examples?

11. 'Regret is what happens when reality collides with your dreams. But dreams are important....' Figure that out!

12. 'I wish I'd known then what I know now'. 'You can't put a wise head on young shoulders'. Can't you?

13. A psychologist writes: 'Living without regret requires difficult self-questioning. We must regularly ask ourselves these questions: What do I want? How will I know when I get it?' Why not share with the group your answers to these two questions?

14. Here's a little poem by Victor Hugo:

'Let us learn like a bird for a moment to take Sweet rest on a branch that is ready to break; She feels the branch tremble, yet gaily she sings. What is with her? She has wings, she has wings.'

How does Christian hope provide us with wings?

15. Found on an Internet newsgroup:

Written by Erma Bombeck at her learning of her terminal cancer (with some additional comments by the author of the news post):

[In honor of women's history month and in memory of Erma Bombeck who lost her fight with cancer]. What would you add to these?

16. Life, wrote Baudelaire, is a hospital in which patients believe they will recover if they are moved to another bed. (For pastors: substitute the word 'church'!). Your experience?

17. When things are really bad, when they can't get worse, think about what they did at Stalag 3A.

A PRAYER

Help me in my unbelief, O God, and give me gifts of patience and hope. Make me more constant in my love for you and my trust in you. In loving let me believe and in believing let me love; and in loving and in believing let me hope for a more perfect love and a more unwavering faith, through Jesus Christ my Lord...

O God, I hope, each day, for the lessening of sin's hold upon my will; for my growth in grace and in true holiness; for a more perfect holiness, and when this earthly life is through, for an experience of knowing even as also I am known.

And until I experience a triumphant welcome on the other side, thank you for your comfort and protection in all the days of my life so far. Your blessings outnumber the leaves of autumn or the stars in the sky. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose loving kindness we have been born anew; born to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; born to an inheritance which will never perish or fade away, kept for us in heaven. Amen.

A BENEDICTION

May the eternal God, who has been the hope and joy of many generations, and who in all ages has invited men and women to seek him and in seeking to find him, grant you a clearer vision of his truth, a greater faith in his power, and a more confident assurance of his love.

May he who out of defeat brings new hope and new alternatives, continually bring you new life. For his greater glory. Amen.

A final blessing (adapted from a sermon by John Clapool):

May you travel from the place of despair to the place of hope. May you stop setting limits on what can and cannot be.

Behold our God! He can make the things that are out of the things that are not. He can make dead things come to life again. Neither empty wombs nor empty tombs are too much for him; which means neither are your problems, whatever they may be. Therefore, lift up your hearts. Be not afraid. He goes before us into the future. What are we waiting for? Let us go out in hope.

RESOURCES

Use the keyword search for 'Hope', and 'Failure' (without 'quotes') on the < ahref="http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm">John Mark Ministries website (http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm)


Written by Rowland Croucher, March 2001.

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