Regret goes hand in hand with grief when someone close to us leaves this earthly life. A person’s untimely death catches us off guard and smears our faces in our own pool of procrastination. We should have called. We should have sent that birthday card. We should have settled old scores. Harder to admit to others are the unkind things we’ve said, the inability to forgive, the cracks in the relationship which only in hindsight we realize we could have done more to patch.
Regret pokes its unwelcome head in the most unexpected places.
My regret came in the form of Christmas stockings.
My husband brought into our marriage his childhood stocking and insisted we hang it up for him. It was a simple red stocking. His mother had glued felt cut-out letters of his name and added glittered decorations. I didn’t have a stocking, I complained. Well, make one, he encouraged me. I am not a crafty person. My efforts would be a measly inferior compared to the sweet loving precise letters of his mother’s work.
By then we had two children. I got the bright idea to ask my mother-in-law to make stockings for us. “Just like Jack’s,” I instructed. She agreed, but weeks went by and no mention of stockings. Then, a few weeks before Christmas, we received a package. Inside were four beautiful, intricately sewn counted cross-stitch stockings, our names neatly embroidered at the top.
I was not happy. That was not what I asked for. Why did she have to go to all that work? I wanted something functional, not an art piece. I complained long and hard to my husband. My angst only grew when my mother-in-law’s response to my begrudging thanks was, “Don’t’ fill them too full. You don’t want the stitching to break. And make sure you wrap them in tissue and lay them flat when you put them away.” Excuse me? Our family loved stocking stuffers. I’m gonna fill those as full as I want to. And don’t YOU tell me how I ought to store them. Don’t you think I know that? (I didn’t, but I wasn’t going to admit that.) I didn’t say those things directly to her, but I sure thought them.
I so wish I hadn’t reacted that way. I wish I hadn’t said or thought what I did. I wish I had been a lot more appreciative.
Like any of us, my mother-in-law had her rough edges. It wasn’t until her death that I was able to appreciate how extraordinarily talented she was at hand-crafts. While my father-in-law lay dying three weeks before our first child was born, she spent her hours in the hospital making a beautiful crocheted white baby blanket then cross-stitched patterns of animals on top of the blanket. When an occupational therapist told us to surround our second baby who was visually impaired with bright, primary colors, Jane threw aside the customary tradition of pastels and promptly got to work on a brightly colored patchwork baby blanket. Any counted cross stitch patterns takes eons of hours; yet she made those four Christmas stockings in record time. Ignorant about counted cross stitch, I failed to appreciate the time, blurry eyesight, achy shoulders, and love she poured into those stockings.
If we let it, regret will eat our lunch and leave us starving. I’ve heard so many people say, you do what you can and don’t let yourself linger over the should haves and shouldn’t haves. Nice, rhetoric, but when you are the one living with the regret, it’s not so easy.
Jesus provides another option.
His solution is the essence of forgiveness. After all her accusers departed, the woman caught in adultery stood before Jesus, waiting for the judgement from the One who had the right to dish it out to her. His words span the centuries from a sinful woman to an ungrateful daughter-in-law. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
He’s the God of second chances! His words whisper in my ears. “It’s all right. Go try again.” He specializes in redeeming the past.
I can’t make it up to my mother-in-law. But I can try again the next time I receive a gift from someone. My calloused words to my mother-in-law taught me sensitivity to the gifts behind the wrapped present—the gifts of time, energy, the sacrifice of other things she could be doing, her creativity and the thought process behind choosing patterns for each of us. Next time I can value the giver as well as the gift.
Are you hiding a bundle of regret over past actions, unkind words, unresolved arguments, or unaccomplished intentions? Have you failed to value the people in your inner circle as much as the Lord would like you to? Has timidity frozen your tongue to speak words of God’s truth, love, and forgiveness to those who need that message? Take out those regrets one by one. If the person is still alive, seek God’s guidance on how you can be better the next time. If that person has passed this life, let it go. Learn the lesson, turn to someone else, and try again.
What do I plan to do? Four beautiful stockings, a bit yellowed with age, hang on my wall this Christmas season. We’re not filling them with stocking stuffers this year; instead we’ll appreciate the gift of the stockings themselves. We’ll use them as a reminder of the gift of Jack’s mom. And I’ll treasure the gift of my mistakes that taught me to graciously value the giver as well as the gift.
No regret. Only fond memories and deep appreciation for a beautifully talented lady.