If Only Blog Tour: The Saddest Words
By LeslieSholly on July 03, 2014
Hi, y'all, and welcome to the final day (saving the best for last and all that!) if the If Only Blog Tour. In my capacity as an Off The Shelf Blogger for Beacon Hill Press, I've been given the opportunity to read If Only: Letting Go of Regret by Michelle Van Loon. (My advance copy was my only compensation, and, as always, my opinion is my own.) This time, instead of reviewing the book, I was asked to write a personal reflection on regret.
Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, "It might have been."
~ John Greenleaf Whittier
In Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Charles Wallace Murry is given the responsibility, with the help of a time traveling unicorn, of saving the world from imminent nuclear destruction by finding and changing the right "Might Have Been" in the past. Charles succeeds, and the world is saved. The rest of us aren't so lucky.
Because all of our lives are littered with "might have beens." Whether for good or ill, every choice made excludes all the other possible choices. Everything we do--or leave undone--has repercussions. In If Only, Michelle Van Loon writes of how regrets can divide our hearts, trap us in the past, and damage our relationships with God and with one another.
Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . . That's the first thing that comes into my mind when I try to reflect on my personal experience with regret, but I'm not sure whether it's true or just a comforting story I'm telling myself. Van Loon writes of people who have submerged their regrets so deeply that they don't even realize the damage these unresolved feelings are causing in their current lives.
Most of the time I tell myself that there is no point in regret, because I can't really know what would have happened if I had done things differently. Like those well-meaning time travelers in just about every book or movie you've ever seen on the topic, what if I had made things worse by doing (or not doing) whatever it was? Is wishing I could go back and change things not a rejection of everything good that has happened since?
I think about our house burning down. If only I had insisted on having a professional deal with the electrical box situation instead of the handyman employed by our landlord (not that it ever occurred to me at the time). Then the box wouldn't have exploded and the house wouldn't have burned down and I would still have all my things. But what about the lessons and the love and the new home and new friends we have now? And who's to say that if we had stayed in that house, we might not have died in a car crash on the way home one night? This is why it's a good thing that we are not God and that time travel remains the stuff of science fiction.
If only I hadn't wasted so much time and energy on sorting and storing all the things that I had. If only I hadn't gotten so upset over various things getting broken or ruined by floods in the basement or careless children. But I couldn't have known what was going to happen--all I can do is try to be better going forward. Which is definitely one of Van Loon's points--that our regrets can be a tool for us now if we acknowledge them and own them instead of burying them. And her book supplies tools to do that, with discussion/reflection questions, scripture, and prayer.
Where she really got me was when she started talking about her experience as a parent of grown children: "My empty nest echoed with the sound of regret." My nest is still quite full (will any of them EVER leave?), but three of my babies are legal adults. Without implying that there is anything seriously wrong with any of them--don't get me wrong!--of course they have their struggles and I cannot help but think there were things I should have done differently. I can't help but remember how far short I have fallen--and continue to fall--of the perfect mother I just knew I was going to be. I regret deeply--I can't tell you how much--that I didn't enjoy them enough when they were little. I never heard that saying "The days are long but the years are short" until my kids were already big. I wish I had. It won't do any good for me to tell those of you who still have little kids that they will be grown up before you know it but it is true.
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