Perspectives: Regret And Hope ~ Press On
I think perhaps the common thought that comes to most folks when they see the title ‘Regret And Hope’ is that these are two sentiments or circumstances are opposites, and that regret is bad while hope is good – sometimes I feel my occupation in life is to make things far more complex than they need to be, or than anyone is interested to consider them as being, and I’ll not shrink from my calling with the ‘Perspectives:’ theme for this month . . . I think maybe the sentiments or circumstances ‘regret’ and ‘hope’ have more to them that ought to be pondered over a bit than simply agreeing that having regrets is not so healthy and that we should all maintain hope.
The first kind of interesting thing to consider, it seems to me, is that the ‘regret’ part has to do with the past while the ‘hope’ part has to do with the future . . . we regret things we’ve done, we don’t regret things we’re going to do – we hope the future will be as we want, we don’t hope the past will change. To me that state, that condition, suggests that while regrets and hopes are internal interpretations, our private approach, our feelings about things, they are our interpretation and our approach and our feelings about real, factual things – our regrets and hopes our are internal/subjective reaction to external/objective reality . . . and that means, they don’t have to be as they are, our regrets and hopes are not inescapable reality, they are our own definitions of how we feel about reality.
. . . regret ~
Now, let me be clear right up front; I, personally, do not think owning regrets is in itself a bad thing. I am always a bit dumbfounded by folks who say they have no regrets, that if they could they would not change anything but live their life again just as they had – my first thought is always, these must be the most miserably dull people on the planet. But, I think I do know what they mean; they are asserting that they do not live in the past, daily beating themselves up today over lost opportunities or harm done to others yesterday. That I understand – but that seems to me to address something other than mere regret, that seems to be using regret to inform your sense of self and to define your station in life. I think endlessly lamenting past mistakes or events, being unable to escape the memory of something when years of other mistakes and events have transpired, being and feeling today who you are and what you’re like because of things that happened long (or even a short time) ago, etc, is not ‘regret’, it’s using regrets in an unhealthy manner to allow yourself excuses to be down rather than up, to permit yourself to withdraw a bit from actual life by dwelling in the past of your life.
‘Regret’ is properly recognizing a fault or mistake, the ‘properly’ part meaning you do feel bad about it rather than good. When I was 15, just as I met my high school sweetheart, I was doing LSD and cocaine and all manner of 60’s drug hippie activities, including dropping out of school. Today, after being married for 40 years and raising 6 children together, I regret that I started my life with her and my future children with such foolish steps, I regret dropping out of school and providing for my family so poorly with a series of low-paying jobs . . . but, while I regret those selfish and harmful choices, I don’t live in them, I don’t permit them to frame or flavor my life today and all that’s transpired since. I count them as mistakes, if I had it to do over I would definitely do things differently, I regret dropping out of school and entertaining myself daily with drugs rather than preparing myself to be in a position to better take care of the family I was going to produce – but myself and my life have not been informed or shaped by those events or by my own regrets about them. Regretting something, recognizing a fault or mistake, is simply dealing with reality – perpetually lamenting a regret, something you can’t change, is not dealing with reality, it’s allowing the past to confiscate your present, your life.
. . . hope ~
‘Hope’ is of course the good part of ‘regret and hope’, we are all encouraged to remain hopeful, to not give in to fear or doubt but to keep hope alive, etc. But just as with regret, hope must be based in reality to be healthy. One of my very first jobs was in a pizza/sub shop when I was 16, and I worked with a man who was endlessly perplexing to me. This fellow was maybe 45 or 50 and always had his girlfriend in the shop with him. On one occasion, as he was instructing me on the heroic damage he would inflict on anyone who would ever make a pass at his girl, she alertly contradicted his ‘anyone’ saying “Except Elvis, right?”, to which he instantly began reprimanding her “If Elvis were to walk in here and want you, you better go with him and you better do whatever he wanted!”. Now the likelihood of Elvis Presley walking into that little pizza shop in Harrisburg, Pa seemed a sure thing compared to the likelihood that Elvis would have any interest in this woman . . . I don’t want to be unkind, but, this woman looked and conducted herself like someone you might see today on a reality show catching catfish with her bare hands before teaching her daughter “You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings” for the Hatfield County ‘Little Miss Bubba’ pageant – I don’t believe one other person on the planet could begin to imagine that Elvis might possibly have any interest to pursue this woman ever, at all.
Then there was the counting down of the register . . . every night this fellow would spend nearly 2 hours at the end of a long day checking every coin in the register with the listings in a book of rare coins. He had a foot and a half of used lottery tickets in the trunk of his car. He thought he could rob the shop and get away with it, but the first thing the cops noticed when they arrived was that the window (the supposed point of entry) was broken from the inside. This guy lived, his daily life was informed, by the most ludicrous hopes. He was not living in the reality of his life, Elvis was not going to come to get his girl, he was wasting hours upon hours on searching for a million dollar coin, he was throwing his hard earned money away on little worthless tickets that lined the trunk of his car – if he would have set all those silly hopes aside and dealt with the actual life he was in the midst of, he could have enjoyed his real life rather than longing for a different one.
After generations of encouraging people to just believe in themselves, after generations of every kid getting a trophy whether he actually plays the game well or not, after generations of persuading ourselves it’s all about how we feel about things and making our dreams come true, etc, we find ourselves in a culture where actual accomplishment has given way to celebrity. Today, everyone has a ‘right’ to be a star, it’s become unfashionable to celebrate achievement – today we have to celebrate simply being . . . people are now famous for being famous. What do Paris Hilton and the Kardashians do, why do we all know who they are, what accomplishment or achievement makes them noteworthy, what about them recommends them to our attention? Our culture has made ‘hope’ synonymous with ‘is’ . . . schools and tv, etc, have been telling children that they are special to the point that people think they deserve fame and fortune just for being them.
I don’t count regret to be in itself and bad thing, and I don’t count hope in itself to be a good thing – both regret and hope can be profitable, useful, and healthy when they are informed by reality. I wish I would have stayed in school, gone on to college, and entered into a career that would have provided better for my family – but I didn’t do that, that’s not what happened, and I can’t change that. Rather than dwelling on my mistake and lamenting the course my life has taken, I appreciate my life as it is . . . I can’t go back and change what has already happened in the past, it’s useless (in fact, harmful) to return in my mind to that regret again and again, the reality is that I’m a high school dropout still married to my high school sweetheart and with 6 outstanding kids and 13 delightful grandkids – why dwell on the ‘dropout’ part rather than the ‘happily married with great kids’ part?! I live in the reality of my life, not in the dream of ‘what if’.
I also don’t neglect the reality of my life with wishful-thinking hopes about what might be in the future. Here, dealing with the past and the future, how we deal with things get reversed; I can’t go back into the past to change things, I can only change how I think and feel about what has in fact happened – I can’t change how I think and feel about what will in fact happen in the future, I can only do now what might most likely bring things about in the manner I desire. The past has already happened, we can’t change it – the future hasn’t happened yet, we can’t change it . . . we are here and now, what we can do is live our lives now on the basis of the reality of the past as it was and on preparing for the reality of the future as it will be. I believe we sacrifice our lives if we permit the either the nightmares of yesterday or the dreams of tomorrow steal the reality of today . . . regrets devour our joy if use them as excuses for today and hopes fool us with pretend joy if we use them as excuses for today – both, regrets and hope can be constructive and healthy for us if we use them to inform today, not if the life we live daily is stained by the past or set aside for the future, but is at peace with those things we regret and cogent in our hopes.
"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need." ~ Apostle Paul
This may surprise some folks, but this life-based-in-reality approach is, in a word, called ‘Christianity’. Contrary to a common contemporary notion, Christianity is not about a pie-in-the-sky anti-science belief in magical stuff that has no evidence to support it – Christianity presents itself as recognition of reality. The apostle Paul understood this idea of living according to the truth of the here-and-now as it is, when he said “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,I press on . . .”. Paul could have approached his ‘todays’ very differently; before his conversion Paul was on a mission to end the cult of Jesus followers, he went around Palestine arresting Christians for execution, he was the great enemy of the church. As a Christian, Paul fully believed this life was a passageway to the next and he wrote that it was more desirable for him to just die now and go into eternity, but that it was more needful that he stay and do the work God gave him to do.
Paul, easily, could have been forever distraught and useless by the regret of the harm he did the gospel he came to love so much, and he could equally been useless by the hope of the wonder and beauty of eternity with God – but Paul was a Christian and he lived in the reality of today, and so he said “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,I press on . . .”.
For an introduction to the 'Perspectives:' series, visit ~
. . . and this month's guest contributor ~ fpherj48