In a recent Bible study at church on the life of Abraham, particularly his near sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac, we were given the assignment to “make a list of five to ten things that mean a great deal to you, and offer them to God one by one.”
My list included some material items that would be difficult for me to part with, and it included some people I would hate to lose from my life. But I also included intangible items such as my image and reputation (what people think of me), and my ambition (wanting to finish my career well and to publish a book), contentment within my marriage, my agenda and my plans (particularly my rigidity over my agenda and my plans), and my health (the ability to do the things I enjoy). I included these items in my list and wondered what it might be like if I would have to give them up.
Wow! Since that assignment many of those items have been seriously challenged.
With such challenges, comes a good opportunity for me to discover whether I trust in God on the basis of things being pleasant for me or whether I trust in God because He is still worth clinging to even when everything else seems to fall apart.
One of the things stirring up the struggles I am presently facing are faults and failures and character flaws from my past that come back to bite me.
Because of the death of my mother and a dear friend this summer, a young woman in our church gave me a copy of Jerry Sittser’s book about grief, A Grace Disguised. I find hope in some things he shares in this book. He writes:
“Regret is inescapable in a world of imperfection, failure, and loss. But can there also be redemption? Can a life gone wrong because of loss be made right again, however irreversible the loss itself? Can people with regrets be set free and transformed? I believe that there can be redemption, but only under one significant condition: People with regrets can be redeemed, but they cannot reverse the loss that gave rise to the regrets. People can be changed by the unchangeable losses they experience. Thus, for redemption to occur, they must let go of the loss itself and embrace the good effects that the loss can have on their lives. They must somehow transcend what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead, directing their energies toward changes they can make now. In other words, they must seek personal transformation, which comes only through grace….
“If I want transformation, I must let go of my regrets over what could have been and pursue what can be….
“Many people are destroyed by loss because, learning what they could have been but failed to be, they choose to wallow in guilt and regret, to become bitter in spirit, or to fall into despair. While nothing they can do will reverse the loss, it is not true that there is nothing they can do to change. The difference between despair and hope, bitterness and forgiveness, hatred and love, and stagnation and vitality lies in the decisions we make about what to do in the face of regrets over an unchangeable and painful past. We cannot change the situation, but we can allow the situation to change us. We exacerbate our suffering needlessly when we allow one loss to lead to another. That causes gradual destruction of the soul.
“This destruction of the soul represents the tragedy of what I call the ‘second death,’ and it can be a worse tragedy than the first. The death that comes through loss of spouse, children, parents, health, job, marriage childhood, or any other kind of death there is. Worse still is the death of the spirit, the death that comes through guilt, regret, bitterness, hatred, immorality, and despair. The first kind of death happens to us; the second kind of death happens in us. It is a death we bring upon ourselves if we refuse to be transformed by the first death.” (p. 98-100)
I find in myself the inclination to become discouraged and to feel defeated and to slide into a shell or a hole. But Sittser’s words challenge me and encourage me to grieve the losses I experience due to the faults and failures of my past but not to cling to my regrets. His words encourage me to cling to God’s grace instead and to look for how God may transform me through it all—even if it involves more loss for me in the present or future.