Who hasn't wished for the chance to do something over? To take back careless words or make the most of a missed opportunity?
For years, I wished often for just such a chance. Yet, in spite of the fact that regret kept me constantly looking back instead of forward, that was never enough to convince me to avoid it.
For me, that's where God came in. I've learned a lot about God from reading the Bible and its "key" - "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy.
These books present God as a God of love and grace and each of us as the expression of that God. Science and Health also explains that God is perfect Principle, never wavering in His perfect operations. All by way of saying that the universe of God's creating - the universe in which we live - is completely harmonious. Any deviation wouldn't be in accord with the unchanging, wholly good nature of the Divine.
That's why regret and its arguments don't add up. They imply that at some key moment God messed up or ceased to operate. That for a second or two He left the picture. Regret says things could have been done better. More graciously or skillfully. But if God just is - and He is - then "more" and "better" aren't the real issue.
Hard to believe, I thought. I was in post-business meeting mode - and none too happy with the way things had gone. I'd been called out of town to represent some important ideas. Articulating those ideas is what I've been trained to do, so I thought, OK, not that big a deal.
Yet, it felt like a big deal because the people I encountered were more skeptical than anyone I'd ever met. There were rapid-fire questions. Tough questions, too. At times I felt flustered, even tongue-tied. And though I was praying all along, I left the day feeling ... regretful. I wished desperately to go back and do things over. But of course, there was no going back.
Finally, I prayed for release. What I heard in response surprised me: What kind of a skeptic are you?
I almost laughed. Here I'd been bemoaning my questioners' skepticism when the skepticism I needed to deal with was my own. I did wonder whether God had really been on the scene that day. And had I actually been His agent?
Through my prayers I saw that the real antidote to regret isn't a time machine, but trust and humility. Trust that an ever- present, all-knowing, all-acting God must be present, supremely intelligent, and active no matter what circumstances may say to the contrary. And humility to yield to that view of God - and myself as His reflection.
My prayers also showed me that while there was no going back, no going back was actually necessary. Praying until I felt convinced that God had been working His purpose out would show me what was and always had been true: God, indeed, had been working out that purpose. And even if I couldn't understand how, I'd been an important part of that.
I love the way Paul tackled the subject of regret in his letter to the Philippians. "Forgetting those things which are behind," he wrote, "and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13,14).
Paul saw clearly that what we get from avoiding regret isn't just more productive living. More important, we gain a clearer vision of the nature of God, and of our own innate goodness - our Christliness - as His children. Now that's a prize worth looking forward to.
Onward, Christian, though the region
Where thou art seem drear and lone
God hath set a guardian legion
Very near thee, press thou on.
Christian Science Hymnal,