I HAVE SOME REGRETS
By JIM NICHOLS
In my more introspective moments, I consider how I have changed in my life. This is normal, of course, and it can be an instructive activity. Many wonderful people have enriched me and cared for me; indeed, many have sacrificed for me. I have had a blessed life compared to virtually everyone I know. When I consider how I might have dealt with some of the life trials of my friends, I marvel at their resiliency and mental and spiritual health.
I do have some regrets, however. This is not to present the word “regret” in a totally negative way. It is important to take every experience of life and try to use it to grow as God’s person. When I relive some events of my life, however, I do have some memories that bring me at least embarrassment and, in some cases, shame. Three different categories appear to me.
Some of my regrets largely relate to my immaturity or lack of attention. Frankly, I have done a few things that were stupid and even potentially dangerous, either to me or to others. They may be as simple as inattentive driving or bicycle riding. Each of us has made driving errors and realized immediately that, had another car been in the wrong place at the wrong time, we would have been involved in a collision. As a boy, I was involved in many rock and mud-clod throwing battles. I am chagrined, especially, to remember a BB gun fight with some others; only after I was hit in the forehead did I realize how close the shot had come to my eye.
The second category meriting regrets is more willful. This concerns comments I have made that hurt people. In my defense, sometimes these comments to family and friends were nearly inadvertent, made quickly without considering the consequences of the words. Only after I saw the look on the recipient’s face did I realize what I had said. However, in other cases, I regret to say, I knew exactly what I was saying and said it anyway. I am not comfortable detailing some examples because I am so ashamed of them.
My regrets are most serious when I consider my spiritual beliefs. I have kept many files of classes I have taught, sermons I have preached, articles I have written, and controversies/debates in which I have participated. When I stumble upon those files now, I am amazed that I presented some of those ideas as solid and sane. I do not even recognize some of them yet, apparently, I presented them as truth as I understood it. I suspect that I am speaking not only for myself at this point, but also you, reader.
A response to this situation might take two forms. One response to some of the inaccurate or misleading items I have written or said is simply to refrain from writing or speaking any more. This would appear impossible.
The second response is to fall back on God’s grace. This would include praying that, despite what I said or wrote, God translated to the hearer or reader truth. Despite what I said and thought, God used it to inform others of what He wanted them to know or experience. Furthermore, this fork in the road of my belief becomes a learning experience for me as I live as a forgiven person.
There are certainly Biblical examples of individuals, even on a large scale, having a realization of their error forced on them by God. As a result, these individuals may take a markedly different path in their spiritual futures. For example, Paul’s road to Damascus experience caused a reorientation of his life in a dramatic way. Another illustration is the strange event in Acts 10 of Peter having a sheet descend from heaven. In the sheet are animals of great variety accompanied by a voice telling Peter to kill and eat these animals. Most, if not all, of those animals were “unclean” according to Peter’s theology. The concept of God’s acceptance of all these animals taught Peter that “. . . God shows no partiality.” Perhaps in our modern age this episode looks rather quaint or trivial, but this was a significant redirection for the followers of God in that time.
Particularly disconcerting to me about this third category (things I have believed and taught that I no longer believe) is that my life is continuing. That is, it must be true that some of the things I believe and teach today I will realize in the future were incorrect and, perhaps, ungodly. I am thankful that God’s grace not only goes backward into my incomplete or inaccurate spiritual understandings of the past, but also goes forward. In fact, there is grace waiting out there for me and I am certain I will need it. There is also a responsibility on me to exercise to others human grace. I am trying to accept that other followers of God are doing their best with what they know and have experienced; my responsibility is to attempt to join them in functioning in God’s community today, bathed in His grace.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain.