What do you do with regrets? When my daughter was born I was on the other side of the world, deployed with the Air Force to the Middle East. As I sat chatting with coworkers in the chow hall, our commander walked in and waived me over. “Congratulations, Kermit,” he said, naming me by my call-sign, “You’re a dad!” I was shocked and dumbfounded, because she wasn’t due for 6 more weeks and I was scheduled to fly home with 5 weeks to spare.
They put me on a flight out that night, so I got to meet Lara a mere 2 days after she was born … in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). While she wasn’t in any real danger, she was a too underdeveloped and fragile to go home and face the real world, so ended up spending her first MONTH there! Looking back, I regret being more unprepared and self-centered than I wish I’d been during this season, as I spent more time playing video games at home than with her in the hospital.
Regrets, much like hurts and wrongs done to us, either make us bitter or better. Our mistakes, missed opportunities, and missteps are fertile soil for two incredible gifts: Transformation and Empathy.
Isn’t it interesting how often the outer world mirrors our inner landscape? In America’s consumer culture, for instance, things are disposable and forgettable. We tend to quickly discard the old and move on to the new, we hastily shun, shame, or shove down the “bad” and celebrate the “good”. In Matthew 13.24-30 Jesus tells the Parable of the Weeds to describe what it looks like to live in alignment with God. After a farmer plants a crop of wheat, his enemy comes in the night and sows weeds among the wheat. Once the plants start to grow his servants notice this problem, so they ask him if they should pull the weeds out. No, he says, let them grow together until the harvest, so none of the good crops will be lost. Part of what this story says to me is: Don’t rush to judgment. Go easy on yourself and others. Be patient. Be tender. Believe the best and give time for change to occur in a natural and sustainable way. Work with what is.
A yoga teacher I love and take classes from online says, “Love the bridge that got you here.” What I believe Mary Clare Sweet is getting at here is the importance of seeing, valuing, and Loving every bit of our selves and stories, especially our faults and mistakes. Why? Because the radiance of Love is what nourishes, energizes, and transforms, while hate, judgments, and shame hinder, harm, and diminish.
The “me” (Lang) of when my daughter was born in 2005 was part of the bridge that formed a much more others-oriented, sacrificing, and caring Lang today. Along my journey of becoming the things I regret have been the fuel for change. In a very real sense our mistakes, missteps, and faults are the momentum that will propel us to transform into the best version of ourselves, when we consciously choose to become better and love the bridge that got us here.
Life, beliefs, and research have convinced me everyone is doing the best they can. If someone had confronted the 2005 Lang and told him what a terrible father he was, telling him: “Don’t you know she’s the most precious thing in the world, you should instantly adore your daughter, and put Lara’s needs WAY above yours?” I wouldn’t have received it and benefited from the advice, even if delivered kindly, because I wasn’t ready. Life, or perhaps God, has a clever way of giving us (or sometimes pushing us into) lessons when we’re ready … the trick is learning to keep our eyes open, hearts receptive, and spirits excited for the messages and chances to change!
A second cherished gift our failures and faults bring us, when we open our “hands” to receive it, is empathy. Remembering we’ve been jerk wads, selfish, messed up, hurt others, and such helps us receive others as they are with grace and understanding. Remembering our mistakes helps us to forgive others for theirs!
In pondering what to write next, I just had a big “AHA” moment. The same part of me that shuns and shames the Lang of Lara’s birth for being selfish, is the same aspect of me who judges, thinks less of, and scorns people who disagree with me on life’s big issues. Conversely, though, the portion of Langness who Loves the me of fourteen years ago, also completely cherishes the people I think are wrong. Grace, I believe, is an inherent and powerful energy in the world. To live forgiveness, understanding, and acceptance, then, is to live in alignment with the Divine … and the opposite is true too!
By way of closing, I’d like to offer this blessing: When we have regrets we can’t let go of, that keep us stuck, or tempt us to beat ourselves up, I pray we turn those lessons into the fuel for personal change and the soil for empathy toward others.
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MUCH Love and Many Hugs,