There’s a lesson in the movie, Old Yeller, for all of us. Doing what’s right is not easy. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
The 1957 film, “Old Yeller,” always made me cry when I was a child. Although I didn’t understand why at the time, I felt Travis’ agony as he pulled the trigger on his beloved yeller dog. What a horrible thing for a young teen to have to do.
Travis learned one of those life lessons that adds years of maturity to our lives in a matter of moments – that, sometimes the most we can do to fix the problem is take steps to minimize the collateral damage and move on.
“Life is that way,” said Travis’ dad when he came home from a cattle drive and found out what his son had to do. “Sometimes life can haul off and knock you flat.” As we look in hindsight on those unsolvable moments, part of us wishes with every fiber of our being that it didn’t have to be that way. Our heart longs for another solution but our head tells us that we have to do it the right way, the only way, not matter how much it might hurt.
It’s called regret.
Regret is different than remorse. Remorse is regret mixed with guilt over the choices we personally have made. Regret is an overall disappointment about a given situation or relationship coupled with feelings of helplessness as we try to make the best of a bad situation. We wish like anything that the pain would go away and better yet, that it had never happened. We feel sorrow that whatever happened had to ever happen in the first place.
Regret is different than grief. We grieve over the passing of an aged parent. We know it’s their time and want their suffering to end. Sorrow is bittersweet as we smile through the tears, already missing the good moments. Their passing leaves a hole in our hearts.
Regret invades grief when our relationship with that person wasn’t all it could have been, especially if that loved one was broken or flawed in a way that shoved aside intimacy. Circumstances can cause regret too. Life events – divorce, living conditions, finances, or relocation stifle the relationships we long to have. Our hearts grieve at the mess of life, the decisions another person has made, or the consequences that societal sin has caused. The general decay of our sin-tainted world causes events that change life into something it’s not supposed to be..
Regret is most intense when we must take action that may temporarily hurt others.
I still remember the pain I felt when I had to report a mom to the Child Protection Agency for physically abusing her children, a decision that ultimately led to removal of the kids from the home. I remember commenting to the social worker, “There are no winners in this case.” I could never feel good about what I had to do even though it had to be done.
God understands regret.
God regretted that He chose Saul as king (1 Samuel 15:11). He wasn’t acknowledging a mistake. Instead, He mourned over what Saul had become. God didn’t like the fact that Saul was broken and He grieved over the consequences His beloved people suffered at the hands of a proud and arrogant ruler. God — and Samuel, His prophet — did not enjoy removing Saul in the way he had to be removed. Civil war among the tribes of Judah was not part of God’s better plan. Yet it had to happen so that the greater good of King David’s reign which ultimately led to the birth of the Messiah could prevail.
David experienced regret. When the Israelite army had to ultimately kill David’s son Absalom for his attempted overthrow of the kingdom, David’s grief reached a level his army general, Joab, couldn’t fathom. I think I get it though. Regret wraps ugly claws around the natural grief of losing any son. Parents are supposed to die first, not sons, yet this was worse. Absalom died because of the choices he made, choices that negatively impacted an entire nation, especially his own father. David probably rehearsed all his failures as a parent and recognized in the process that Absalom had a few failures of his own. It’s hard enough to admit our own failures; it’s even harder to admit our children are flawed.
How do you move past regret?
Whether putting down a rabid or temperamental dog, reporting child abuse, or breaking off a destructive relationship, making those no-win choices never feels comfortable. How can you rid yourself of those miserable feelings of sorrow and regret? David’s experience with Absalom and the father’s advice to Travis about Old Yeller gives us three coping mechanisms.
Allow yourself to grieve. If God can feel regret and sorrow over a life gone amuck, so can we. God doesn’t like broken relationships, unintended consequences, and destructive behaviors any less than you do. David, a man after God’s own heart, expressed his emotions freely. Let yourself grieve. Feel the anguish. Give yourself time. Regret takes longer to recover from than simple grief, and in some respects, may never go away. It’s all right. This world, full of sin, is a stinky place.
Learn from the past. The Proverbs often refer to the life lessons Solomon’s parents taught him. Solomon became a far more God fearing, humble man than Absalom ever was. Perhaps David and Bathsheba perfected their parenting skills and instilled certain life values into their son based on David’s regrettable experience with Absalom. While you may or may not be at fault for the brokenness, learn from it and determine how your relationships and decisions will be different.
When Travis’ dad came home from the cattle drive to find Old Yeller gone, he acknowledged Travis’ feelings about having to pull the trigger on his rabid dog. “It’s rough,” he said. “It’s not a thing you forget or want to.”
Choose to do what is right. David did what he had to do. When Absalom marched toward Jerusalem, David protected his family and kingdom by leaving. While that might seem cowardly, David knew he needed to move aside so Joab could do his job of confronting Absalom. If David had tried to confront Absalom, as a dad, he probably would have caved. Worse yet, Absalom would have killed him and Israel would have lost their king.
Making right choices and moving forward will make you stronger in ways you didn’t think were possible. Take quiet satisfaction that your actions, while painful, will make life better in the long run for both you and others. If your actions and reactions have been out of obedience to God, thank Him for giving you the strength to remain faithful and righteous. Your relationship with God is far more important than the comforts and conveniences of this earthly life.
Move on. When Joab pointed out that David’s grief was too public, David dried his tears and got back to the business of being king. His feelings of regret were probably still there but he didn’t linger over them. Travis’ father concluded his talk with his son by saying, “Don’t waste the good part fretting about the bad.” He also told his son, “Look for good to take the place of the bad.” Travis learned to do that by his acceptance of a new puppy, sired by Old Yeller himself.
Broken relationships and bad moments may not be what you had in mind for your ideal life plan, but it’s what you have. God doesn’t ask you to fix the brokenness – that’s His job. He asks you to be faithful to Him, stand up for what is right, keep loving those He has entrusted to you, and through His power, protect the weak. Ask God to make redemptive use of the hard times. Find ways to grow strong in the struggle. Finally, determine to be at your best for God no matter what life hands you.
What difficult right choice have you had to make recently? How ddi you feel before you made the choice? How did you feel afterwards?