It’s a common, if well-intentioned greeting we bestow, rather robotically, upon each other with each rotation around our star.  Why…?

At its core, isn’t the greeting just another way of expressing, “good luck”?  Yet, does it not, ever so slightly, acknowledge that “luck” has not precluded us from mistakes of our past?

We make mistakes because we are human, not despite it.  Our design, though magnificent, is fraught by the fact that our minds and bodies will – at some point in our lifespan – fail.  Most of us come to acknowledge this once we accept the fact that perfection exceeds our grasp, age weakens our bodies, and time will not always heal.  In my case, such failings have been rather spectacular.
When I was a boy, I observed – because I had no choice – the sorrow of dysfunction that beset my mother and father.  Such dysfunction became the blueprint for a life of misery.  For reasons far beyond myself, God seems determined to bestow grace where none existed.  It came with a request…a dictate, if you will.  Determined to course-correct, despite my failings as a father and husband, I have strived to honor that directive.  Still, my failings leave pesky breadcrumbs by which anyone can follow my path of self-destruction. Thus, for me, regret has no place.  It is a self-indulgence I can ill afford.  And yet…

In all of human experience, I humbly submit, it is regret that seems to carve the deepest ravines, leaving the darkest shadows upon our hearts.  You needn’t take my word for it. 

“Faith, without works, is dead.”  (James 2:14)

Written in approximately AD 45, the book of James is the earliest-written book of the New Testament.  It captured the initial frustration of apostles who felt, at first, abandoned by Jesus…later, a compelling urgency to call the earliest Christians to action.  James’ words have captured my spirit with a direct, yet humble, acknowledgement that nothing can be “wished” into existence.  Simply expressing that we have “faith” in anything is, of itself, insufficient to merit expectations of desired outcomes, regardless their merit.  We must support our “faith” with works.
Approximately three-hundred fifty years later, the rhetorician-turned-Christian and “father of Western philosophy” – Augustine of Hippo (Saint Augustine) – wrote:

“Pray as if everything depended on God; work as if everything depended on you.”

These voices from our ancient past point the way toward a life replete with purpose and merit…to extend beyond ourselves on behalf of others, consistent with the central message of Christ’s ministry.

But here’s the thing:  such charity is less-altruistic than you may believe.  The doing of good works and expressions of kindness toward one another leads to greater empathy and mutual understanding.  Extending good works toward others actually improves our self-esteem, as many studies have proven…and leaves no room for regret. 

There are, essentially, two categories of regret:

  1. Regret for the things we’ve done
  2. Regret for the things we have not done

My own life’s experience has taught me that regret associated with what I have failed to do is, by far, the more egregious.

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”

  • Sydney J. Harris

Recently visiting friends in Tarpon Springs, Florida, we had occasion to walk, one evening, along a bayou on the far western side of the town, bordering the gulf coast.  The waterway was alight with thousands of luminarias, each bearing an inscription.  Some were merely trite greetings of the season.  Others were heartfelt expressions of love lost, and prayerful entreaties to souls who once occupied this earth, now residing in their hearts.  In its simple beauty, it reminded me of one I had lost…

In my life, I am haunted by one significant regret:  a separation from my older sister, over the most banal of topics:  national politics.  The words I wrote her, the argument I used, crushed her spirit, hurting her deeply.  Much as I tried, in the ensuing months, to reconcile with her, there was no taking back the caustic attack.  She died in midwinter, three months after my last attempt.  I am responsible for my own words and actions; on that day, both inflicted harm.  I pray for our reconciliation one day.  Meanwhile, I regret both the words I used, and the peaceful reconciliation unachieved.  The ripples from that single, terrible encounter now span more than a decade.

How we treat one another will leave ripples in the fabric of time and space. Viewed from that lens, it becomes imperative that we speak and act with urgent kindness to become our brother’s keeper.

If you are reading this, my fervent prayer for you in this newest of years is a life lived without regret.  We each have the power to hurt or heal with every exchange.  Choose the path of healing, no matter the hurt you may have experienced from the words and actions of others.  Forgive them; forgive yourself.  Be a light for the world.

Peace.  Shalom.

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