Working as an ENT surgeon makes me come in contact with a lot of patients suffering from head and neck cancers. Many of them are middle-aged and have far advanced cancers thus having very few years ahead of them. On spending time talking to them, most have regrets. Some of the common ones include:
- I wish I pursued my dreams and aspirations and not what others expected of me.
- I wish I had spent more time with my family and friends.
- I wish I had the courage to express my feelings and speak my mind.
- I wish I had not fallen prey to this addiction (smoking, pan chewing) and ruined my life.
In my personal life too, I have regrets. I was caught cheating in my 9th standard exams and it was a very humiliating experience for me. Various situations and circumstances had led me to this moment and if I look back now, it had to be, by far, the most regretful moment of my life.
In our society, we talk about mistakes and learning from them, but that is different from regret. The dictionary defines regret as ‘a feeling of sadness, repentance or disappointment over an occurrence or something that one has done or failed to do‘.
When we regret something we have done, we feel guilty. Though some people are guilt-ridden, many more think that guilt is pointless and debilitating. It is considered a ‘psychological failing’. To dwell on the sins of one’s past is considered as ‘unhealthy’. Contrast this with St. Augustine. In his book ‘Confessions’, he says he was only able to know the Joy of Christ by turning away from a life of sin.
As a young adult, Augustine lived a rather wild life where he partied a lot, attended gladiatorial games, kept a mistress and even fathered an illegitimate child. One day as he walked into a garden feeling hopeless and guilt-ridden, he seemed to hear a child’s voice telling him to read the Scriptures. He read St. Paul’s letter to the Romans where he stumbled upon the following verse:
Let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires
~ Romans 13:13-14
He instantly underwent a deep spiritual change and went on later to become a priest, bishop, philosopher and one of the greatest saints of the Church.
Without regret for what he had done, Augustine would have never been open to the healing power of God’s grace. Without awareness of sin, we tend to worship what Scripture calls the “pride of life”. We think that we should live life “our way”. As long as we are determined to live life our way, we cannot live life God’s way.
My tryst with cheating in exams was definitely a regretful moment. I was filled with guilt and shame but slowly yet surely sought to make amends for my mistake. Regret for my actions prompted me to change my life around. I believe that if I was indifferent to my actions, I would have never allowed God to work in my life to change me.
Another aspect that has often filled me with regret is the many occasions that I have failed to do something that I should have done. Be it the numerous times when I haven’t seen a patient who has travelled hours for a consultation or the times when I haven’t stood up for those without a voice or the times I have wasted on social media rather than spending with the less fortunate or the times I have shown poor civic sense in failing to dispose my garbage properly. Reflecting on these regrets has taught me to be more compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others.
In order to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” we have to constantly turn our lives over to God. This is a lifelong and constant process. We are constantly brought back to God through feelings of regret.
The road to heaven is paved with regrets. Those who never feel guilty or sorry for what they have done are destined to become slaves of their own desires. People might say they are “happy” with the unholy lives they lead, but I highly doubt it.
Nonetheless, it is not the life God wants us to lead. So let us be wary of those who come in sheep’s clothing, telling us that there is “no point to having regrets”.