The Highway of Regret

by Andy Wood on June 9, 2010

in Enlarging Your Capacity, Esteem, Five LV Laws, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Freedom

Jon Acuff recently shared the story of a coworker named Brian who had witnessed the death of a man in the gym a day before.  Apparently he had a heart attack, and nobody could help, except to vainly call 911.  Now a day later, the coworker was filled with regret and what-if scenarios. 

Twenty years ago, James’ life took a detour through some moral quicksand.  And though he can tell you in glowing terms today about the grace of God that lifted him out of the “miry clay” and “set his feet upon a rock,” sometimes the past comes blowing back in his face like a cold rain.  Even though he lives today as a forgiven man, at times he still finds himself on the Highway of Regret.

I can certainly relate to both of those scenarios – helpless situations and careless choices.  But the regrets that nag me the most have to do with unfinished business.   Promises made, commitments declared, great ideas started with a bang (diets launched every Monday, rain or shine)… but never completed.  Sometimes my Highway of Regret comes calling with the voices or images of debts I owe – relentlessly on my case, reminding me of all the things or people I have obligated myself to.

Years ago, in a moment of candor, I told my daughter that the closest thing to hell we can experience in this life isn’t suffering.  It’s having a life filled with regrets we can never fix.  The pain of wishing the past was different and knowing there isn’t a bloomin’ thing you can do about it.  Or finding yourself terribly dissatisfied with unfulfilled promise – wasted pieces of your life due to procrastination, distractions, or neglect.

Everybody has regrets.  It’s what you do with them that determines your course and outcomes.

For some people, regrets are an occasional, nagging little side trail.  For others, regret is a six-lane freeway…

On the Highway of Regret guilt turns into shame.  It’s not just that you made bad choices – you’re a bad person.

On the Highway of Regret, past decisions become permanent prisons – like living under a chronic, comfortless shadow.

On the Highway of Regret, the fury of the moment becomes the nag of a lifetime – turning your life into a trophy case for fools.

On the Highway of Regret, identities are forged by past choices.  That’s true even among people who should know better.  Just look at the Bible.  We still refer today to “Doubting Thomas” or Martha, the Frustrated Kitchen Queen – both based on one-time events.  And don’t forget the nameless people: The Woman Caught in Adultery, the Prodigal Son, the Ungrateful Lepers (sounds like the name of a rock band).

Some people in the Bible knew the Highway of Regret well.  Check out these haunting words…

David:  “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you — O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Cain:  “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

Judas:  “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

And sometimes the Highway of Regret is too crooked for words.  That’s when people like Peter would go out and “weep bitterly.”  Sometimes that’s all you can do.

God and Your Regrets

Being a believer in Christ and living on the Highway of Regret is sort of like buying a high-def TV to watch old Ma and Pa Kettle movies.  You have the amazing resource, and you sort of get the story.  But you haven’t fully taken advantage of what grace can do.

Maybe it would help you to recognize God’s perspective and reaction to our regrets.

1.  He embraces you warmly.

Like the father of the Prodigal Son (sorry, still don’t know his name), He sees you coming from a long way off, and comes running, embracing, kissing, and celebrating… all because He cherishes you, despite your regrets.

2.  He holds you eternally.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;  and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). 

Pardon the crude image, but it doesn’t seem to bother the Good Shepherd all that much when the sheep poop in His hand.  His is a love that holds us forever.

3.  He treats you safely.

The first rule of traditional medicine is, “First, do no harm.”  I’m glad Dr. Jesus had that figured out long before Hippocrates was born.  In the heart of our Father, dating all the way back to Eden, there is a safe place to bring our failures and regrets.

4.  He redeems you completely.

And at great cost.  He was wounded and bruised, crushed and beaten, so that we could be healed, whole, and forgiven (Isaiah 53:5).  To continue down the Highway of Regret is to drive over a blood-spilled Way that has purchased your freedom.

5.  He transforms you internally.

Stay on the Highway of Regret for very long, and the scenery never changes.  You remain caught in a repeating loop of torment, hopelessness, and shame.  But when our God arrives on the scene, be brings the fresh winds of change.  You are a new creation – His work of art.  Your future is not dictated by the regrets of your past, but by the reformation of your heart.

6.  He awakens you hopefully.

What makes the Highway of Regret so cruel is that it robs you of your future.  What makes grace so amazing is that it restores your capacity to dream, and to see those dreams come true.  The defining characteristic of a world in which the Spirit of God is poured out on all flesh is that once-wicked people prophesy, dream and have vision again.   It’s no coincidence to me that the man who declared that was the same one who, 13 days earlier, had wept bitterly in his regret.

7.  He loves you stubbornly.

What more does He have to do to prove that?  How far does He have to chase you?  How many times does He have to reach out to you?  How long does He have to wait for the fog of regret to lift before you recognize and accept that I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves us?  Oh, how He loves us.

Time to Stop Hitchhiking

I need to say this as kindly as I can.  If you’re a Christ follower and hitchhiking on the Highway of Regret, then you’re trespassing on somebody else’s property.

Get off at the next exit.

Heck, make an exit.  But leave.  Now.

And let Him love you as if grace actually means something.

And if you run into somebody else who is beaten down by the storms on the Highway of Regret, maybe – just maybe – you can be a LifeVestor… and show them a different way to live.

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