The Necessity of Regret

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Regret, it may be said, is one unavoidable we spend our lives trying to avoid. We’re not very good at it; an industry of pills, potions, and prescriptions has risen from the ash heap of those consumed by past mistakes. And each of us will look back in our old age at the sunset of life and recall a day or two when the heat of regret blistered our souls. Yet there is an opportunity, in fact necessity, in regret that is undeniable; because regret, it may also be said, is the greatest of teachers if we will only take heed of her instruction.

In what I consider my greatest triumphs of personal growth, those circumstances of Providence that set my feet on an entirely new and better path, I realize that each one came on the heels of my deepest regrets – when pain and hurt shed its  thorns and bloomed into magnificent blessings. And while excruciatingly cliché, it’s no less true, that I would not, in reality could not, be the person I am without them; because it is a hard cold fact that we grow only in valleys of darkness, never in daylight atop the peaks.

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Life is plastered with episodes we would give anything to reshape; shards in time that remain buried like splinters irritating our spirit. They cleave to the soul like vampires devouring our hope and contentment and follow like a wraith reminding us of our weakness, greed, and negligence – when we gave ourselves over to emotions and passions instead of judgment and wisdom.

And while none of us are spared regret’s hold, how is it some can never seem to break free from its binding shackles while others look back on similar failures with a sense of freedom and even appreciation?

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In the years immediately after my divorce I scaled the mountain of my new life lugging a rucksack of regret and defeat. As the first person in my family to fail at marriage, it was as if I had dropped the torch on a family legacy. Furthermore, every article talking of the impact divorce has on children only added to my already guilty and burdened conscience, and there seemed no amount of denial, blame, and self-loathing that could lighten the load.

But almost a decade later, that millstone has been hewn into stepping-stones upon which I have ascended towards a better life. Only by embracing openly and dealing honestly with that pain, loss, and bitterness was I able to perceive my own failures, understand my motivations, forgive myself, and so doing heed their lessons.  The regret disappeared when I finally realized through it had become something better.

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The necessity of regret lies in this – through pain comes healing. Like the lily that blooms at night, only when we come face to face with the dark realities of our poor choices, recognize the shame our actions have caused others and ourselves, cultivate an attitude of responsibility for what we’ve done, and vow to step off our present course onto a higher path, can we blossom into the person we’re meant to be. As a parent, we inherently know this. Though hard to witness, we realize our children need failure; they must make bad choices and suffer for those mistakes; because it’s through consequence, and regret, that they mature and become wiser. The same holds to for us.

But our natural inclination is to avoid regret, usually through blame and reason. We seek out justifications and explanations for our mistakes always trying to evade the darkness. But so long as we do so we will remain spiritually  immature and the soil of our hearts will stay fallow capable of growing only weeds, thorns, and vines that will take root and choke out the buds of real happiness and genuine growth.

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