Dear Son and Honest Faith: On Regret
Today I’m writing you a letter in joint with my series of writings on rediscovering faith. I’m doing this because I think what I have to say to you today has a lot to do with how I’m dealing with what I’ve been going through spiritually as well. I love watching you grow up. I love that I have had some extra time with you. But I’ve been going through a transition recently. That transition has caused me to look back on my life and think a lot about all that I have been through. Including what your mother and I went through to get to the point where we are now.
Yesterday, while you were napping we watched a movie, or at least we tried to watch the movie you woke up half way through. When you become a parent, you’ll understand how hard it is to actually sit down and watch a movie. Anyway, there was a question asked in the movie, “If you knew how your life would turn out, would you choose to live it again?” After the movie was over your mother and I were discussing what we would talk about in our podcast on Sunday. I asked this question of both of us. If we knew what we would go through to get to this point, would we do it anyway? The answer was quite clear for me, Yes, a hundred million times yes.
Later that evening, when you actually were asleep, we were catching up on our shows. One of the episodes we were watching was based around the idea that “our regrets are what make us human.” I was trying to think of the things that I regret the most in my life. There were a lot of little things like: making fun of that girl I liked because she didn’t like me back, not standing up to those who took advantage of me, thinking I could “save” someone at 2 am, not doing enough to help other people. I started to think of all of those things in terms of the question, would I do it again, I realized a few things and I wanted to share them with you.
First, Even if I knew something were to happen to you, God forbid, I would do everything exactly the same way again. As if it were a magic ritual to get to be with you. Just one moment with you. Just to see one of your little smiles. Just to hear that magical laugh of yours. It makes everything worth it. I cherish each of those things so very much. It is and will forever be my greatest honor and joy to be your father. I thought about this in the context of the image of God as Parent. God knew. God knew you before the beginning of time itself. God knew all the crap the whole of God’s Creation would create, and yet God still Created. I don’t believe God regrets. I think God wants. I think God wants better for everything, but knows that God gave us the job of cleaning up the holy mess we got ourselves in. God made us for Tikkun Olam.
I started to think about it scientifically. I tried to come up with a formula for life. I know, a very ambitious task for me to take on right before bed last night. But I did come up with something. There is a phrase that is said very often, and because I’m writing a letter to you some people might be angry if I use the actual wording even if you will never read this until you are much older, “Poop happens”. That I believe is a constant in life. So in this formula of life, if you can’t change poop from happening what are the variables that we can change to have a good outcome? I’ve written so many times about my favorite quote from Lord of the Rings, but I think that lays out the variables for the formula quite well. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The variables for the equation our own response to the situation, both immediate and how much we let it change us in the end. I think the sum of all the parts together give us a life well lived or not. I don’t think we should shy away from experiences for fear of the regret we may have. We have been given life, so therefore we must live it. We must live it in ways that amount to our purpose of repairing the world. So if the sum of the whole equation “Poop happens(constant) + immediate response(variable)+ how much it changes us (variable)=?” does not equal a positive repair of ourselves or the world, we must change the variables. Change the variables.
Thinking back on those regrets I realized I couldn’t change my immediate reaction to what happened. I could change my reaction to those things in the future, though. Right there starting to get into positive territory. I can also change how I let those situations change me. I can work to repair the brokenness caused by those things. I can work to heal the wounds they created. This morning on the radio I heard a man in an interview say, “It’s not his job to care about our community, That’s our job.” It struck me that in the grand scheme of things my regrets are just that, mine. It’s nobody else’s job to clean up the messes that I created. It’s mine. I shouldn’t regret things that made me who I am. I should regret things that caused harm or hurt, but that regret shouldn’t stop there. That regret should drive me to make things better, to clean up the holy messes that I have been a part of.
Finally, I came back to the original question. Would I do it again? This is something I think someone needed to ask me earlier on in my transition, but I don’t regret that. I would be a youth minister again in all of those places I was before. I would because I realize that there were small moments little things that I didn’t notice right away that needed exactly me to be there. They needed me to happen the way that they did. I suffered a lot for those things to happen, but I wouldn’t change it. I would go through all the pain and suffering your mother and I went through to have you here. She said something that made it all make sense, “The suffering makes you appreciate the good things all the more.”
Son, I know that bad things will happen to you. I don’t want them to, I don’t think any parent ever wants bad things to happen to their children. I can’t change those bad things will happen, though. All I can change is how to guide you to change the variables. I can help you to figure out what to do with the regrets you will have. They don’t have to weigh you down. They can drive you to make things better. I pray that they do. I pray that I will show you how to do that through my own life.