To feel sad . . . to feel disappointed . . . to feel repentant . . . over something that has happened or because of a lost opportunity. That is a working definition of the word “regret”. I imagine that there is not a single person in existence that does not know or understand what it means to regret. I think that we are all familiar with the language of regret.
It is the autumn of 1971. . . football season. The eighth grade class is divided into two teams. I am a starting offensive tackle and defensive end on one of the teams. We are combining the two teams to play a town down the road in a football game . . . a town where I once happened to be a student in the school that we are going to play. I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to face my old classmates . . . couldn’t wait to show them—once and for all—that I was not that wimpy kid who they never picked to play in their games, always picked on, and pretty much was on the bottom of the pecking order. I couldn’t wait to prove them all wrong . . . to rub it in their faces that they underestimated me.
But, I never got the opportunity.
There is no one that I can blame but myself for missing the game . . . the game of my redemption. It was my fault that I skipped a practice to go and watch the freshman team play our archrivals. It was my fault for missing practice and getting left behind when it came time to travel to my old school to play a football game. There was no one to blame except myself . . . something that I did for a long, long, long time. I was fourteen years old when I skipped that practice . . . missed that game, and it was in my mid-thirties before I forgave myself and let myself off the hook. That is how the language of regret works . . . it weighs us down, keeps us from moving forward, and keeps us from growing up.
It would be wonderful if I could honestly state that missing that football game was my only regret in life . . . but, like everyone else, it is not. I have had many regrets in my life. Some I have gotten over rather quickly, others I have had a much more difficult time letting go of . . . it is those that have hindered my life the most.
I believe that I speak for a lot of folks out there when I say that I am my own worst enemy. I can hurt myself more than any other person in my life can . . . I can provide myself with a greater beating than anyone else ever could . . . and, I am usually the last person to let myself off the hook when I have screwed up. But, that is the power of the language of regret . . . especially when we allow it to cripple us to the point that we can no longer be happy . . . no longer grow. I don’t need anyone to tell me when I screw up, I usually know it the minute I do it . . . trust me, I have nearly six decades of experience.
Should of . . . could of . . . would of . . . language of regret. If and only . . . language of regret. Ever hear those words escaping from your lips when you are talking. If so, then you know the language of regret. Ever feel that twinge that comes when someone mentions an event from your past . . . something you wish you could go back and do differently? Language of regret. Ever catch yourself beating and berating yourself because you wish you had done things differently than you did . . . even ten minutes ago? Again, language of regret.
The language of regret is all around us.
I hear it from myself. I hear it from others around me . . . friends and acquaintances. I hear it from my family. I hear it all of the time. It is in those moments of hearing the language of regret that I realize what a massive roadblock it creates in all of our lives. We are immobilized in the past . . . stuck in a time that we cannot change . . . and, we are unable to move on. I have experienced it and seen it . . . and, I have known the hurt that it creates.
I am not really sure what prompted my letting go of the regret of missing that football game when I was in the eighth grade. All I know is that I came to the realization that I needed to quit whining about the past . . . especially since no one was serving cheese with my whine . . . and, to get on with the present moment. I screwed up . . . it was my choice . . . I received the consequences of my choice . . . I missed the game . . . I missed the opportunity to set the record straight . . . I was the one who blew it. There was no one else to blame. I had wasted over sixteen years of my life kicking myself in the butt.
The point is, I learned my lesson when I was left off the roster for skipping practice. I never, ever, again missed another practice in my life . . . ever. But, you would have thought that I never learned anything when the language of regret was stomping around in my rock garden—in my mind. And, that is the weight that comes with the language of regret . . . we weigh ourselves down with something that we cannot change. It is over. The damage is done. The bigger question is: did we learn anything?
Well, as I approach the sixtieth decade of my life, I have learned that regret is not worth the effort. It is not worth the time and energy that most of us put into it . . . why? Because we cannot go back and change anything. The real power of regret is in whether or not we learned anything from the choices that we made or the experiences that we had. Did it help us to grow? If we cannot see regret as an opportunity to learn, then it becomes a cancer that eats away at us psychologically and spiritually to stunt our grow to be who God created us to be . . . all because we cannot let ourselves off the hook.
Well, if you are wondering, we won the football game that I missed way back there in eighth grade . . . won by two touchdowns. I had nothing to do with it. No, I sat at home . . . moped about blowing it. That was a long time ago, but I will be damned if I am going to waste any more of my time regretting it. There is too much life yet to live to be mired in the past. It is a tough lesson to learn. Where is the language of regret miring down your life to be who God created you to be?