We regret the past. We fear the future. In so doing, we neglect to live in the present.
It’s time to let go of regret. Once I have thoroughly examined the past and made a detailed inventory with the help of God’s Spirit, once I have confessed to God and done whatever I can to make amends and seek reconciliation, I need to let it go. Our sins, the prophet said, have been cast into the deepest sea – forgiven, forgotten, gone forever.
On the cross, Jesus absorbed all evil, all sin, all hurt and pain. There, it imploded. I’m told that St. Ignatius at some point decided he would never again confess any sin more than once. God hears us the first time. Having confessed that for which I feel regret, and having sought reconciliation from those I have hurt, I need to refuse further regret. At that point, it is simply condemnation from the evil one. It is me buying into the lie that love is pan-scale, that I am “bad” or “wrong,” and must continually do penance by flagellating myself with regrets. The sociopath is incapable of feeling remorse. The spiritually sensitive may feel it too much.
Perfect love casts out fear. Jesus is perfect love. God is perfect love. The anecdote for fear is to live in the heart of God, to abide in the secret place of the Most High, nestled under the shadow of divine wings. Easier said than done.
For most believers, it’s not the ultimate future we fear. The new creation when wolves and lambs lie down together and children play in city streets, where peace, joy, and love reign supreme and rivers of living water flow from the throne of God. We look forward to that. We fear the stuff between now and then. The list is endless – sickness, old age, disability, poverty, vulnerability, political despotism, our children’s wellbeing, pandemics, violence …. One old guy told me, “I’m not afraid to die. It’s the getting there that has me worried.”
No one has ever condemned me or judged me more harshly more than I have. I have, by my own self-condemnation, been driven by the demons of regret into utter hopelessness. I know the depths of clinical depression. I lived for decades in the slough of despond.
The apostle said to be anxious for nothing. I have been anxious for everything. I’ve been crippled by massive panic attacks and lived with profound, raging worry. Then, I feel guilty and regret the worry. It’s a vicious circle, a vortex that sucks us under.
Slowly, I’m learning that the more I resist regret and anxiety, the stronger it grows. It’s like beating a pit bull – the more you do it, the meaner it gets. Love tames the pit bull. Love tames regret and anxiety.
Ever so slowly, I’m learning to turn towards the regrets of the past and the anxieties of the future with outstretched arms. When I’m flooded with fears, I try to look kindly at them, recognize that this too shall pass and simply let myself feel the feelings. When I find I’m steeping myself in blame over previously confessed sins, I try to look them in the eye, accept God’s unconditional forgiveness, and rest in grace. After all, God brings good out of everything.
When fears and regrets come, I am learning to welcome them with open arms, listening for the lessons they teach, or just simply watching them play out like a thunderstorm. Rather than fighting the tempest, I drop sail, put out the sea anchor, and ride out the waves with the certainty that all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. I am God’s beloved. With Jesus asleep in the stern, the boat cannot sink.