Regret is a sin against Providence

From a worldly perspective, I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in life.
From the perspective of someone who’s tried to model my life after the saints, I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in life.
The bad decisions in those two categories only occasionally overlap, and often come from the fact that those are counterproductive goals.

In any case, when I look on my life, and on the things I regret, very few of them really hold any water when I look at my life as a hole.

Then there are things which aren’t so much regrets as “What if’s”–what if our lives had gone the way we would have preferred in matters we don’t have any control over.

This is something I tell people all the time now: students, internet friends, etc. Don’t regret. From a secular perspective, if you’ve learned something from an experience, and if you’re trying to do better, there’s no such thing as failure. From a spiritual perspective, if you’re doing your best to live in accord with God’s will (at least now, if not then), and if you can see how God brought good out of the evil in your life, why regret?

A friend brought this up in chat once, a while back. He’s very happily engaged, and he’s had a very difficult spiritual journey, but he had one regret in life. Without getting into too many details of his personal story, he has had a long spiritual journey, partly due to bad romantic decisions. While he’s quite happily engaged *now*, he wondered about a girl in high school who was a seemingly good Catholic girl, who was also quite pretty, who had always been nice to him and interested in him. Perhaps, he wondered, his life might have been different if he’d pursued a relationship with that girl instead of the more liberal girls he did date in high school. I told him I don’t believe in regrets–that even his bad experiences have contributed to the good Catholic man he is today. This girl had no Internet presence, and he had asked some high school acquaintances if they knew what happened to her. A day or two later, he got his answer: she had died of a drug overdose a few years ago. Whatever her story was (and, as Aslan says, we can only ever really know our own stories), she was obviously more troubled than external indicators would suggest, and perhaps my friend would have been in a worse place today if he had followed that path.

Providence is amazing.

There is only one thing I *really* regret. It is that I always wanted an art degree, and I let my advisors talk me out of it. Everyone expected me to get my Ph.D. and go work for some great university. Now, I wish I’d had a back up plan. I could have had a job teaching school right out of college. Of course, even then, I stop to think about what they might have done to my health. . . .

There is the temptation to say we had children too early in our marriage–it’s what people told us early on. Yet, had we waited, they wouldn’t be here. Mary would have eventually found out about having POTS. My health would have deteriorated as it has done in the past couple years. Where would we be?

And we tried spacing with NFP, but had trouble with CCLI and Billings Methods, yet after Clara was born, discovered Marquette Model, which has worked amazingly for us. To see the world Providentially is to recognize that God gave us the knowledge we needed when He wanted us to have it.

A few years ago, we were visiting a friend who is a nun with the Dominicans of St. Cecilia in Nashville. She said she had been studying Theology of the Body, and, if she’d known when she was younger what she knows now, she might have chosen marriage. I said, “If I knew then what I know now, I might have chosen the priesthood–which is exactly why God didn’t give me that knowledge then.”

I could go through so many aspects of my life, so many key points and decisions and say, “if only we’d stayed in that place instead of moving,” or “if only we’d moved sooner,” or “if only we’d waited for a better house,” or “if only I’d been able to get that job,” or “if only Mary had taken that job.”

Yet in every situation, there are innumerable benefits that have sprung from a decision which also brought hardship. Life is always going to be hard. And we look back with “20/20 hindsight” and forget things we’ve learned that we simply didn’t know then–and, again, perhaps God didn’t want us to know them. And if we hadn’t lived there, then we’d never gotten close to that relative before he or she passed away. And if we hadn’t moved there, we’d never have met our best friends. And if we had taken that job, then this other opportunity wouldn’t have presented itself.

Most recently, we moved to North Augusta because we thought I was getting a full time job at a local college. I didn’t get the job. Imagine if I had gotten the job, though: I’d have just started my “big break” full time job and had my aorta dissect!
If we *hadn’t* moved here, we’d still be in our three story townhouse when I had my aortic dissection and stairs became an absolute impossibility. Did walking up and down those stairs for 3+ years contribute to it? I’m sure they did. Did the stress of the move contribute to it? I’m sure it did. But ultimately it was going to happen when it happened. As I always say, I’m 33 with a life expectancy of 20. Every day since June 10, 1996, has been a gift, and while I may not have always lived that fact as well as I might have, I definitely know that it’s far better to look back at how God has kept me alive than it is to look back and say where I might have done better to preserve my life.

God gave me the perfect person for me as a wife. Is she a perfect person? No. Does she meet every fantasy criterion I might have listed for the “ideal” woman? No. But she’s the perfect person to be my wife, and I cannot imagine being married to anyone else, and if I try to imagine it, I only come back to, “but then I wouldn’t be married to Mary!” Even when presented with another woman in a dream, I refuse to be unfaithful to my wife. My one frustration in my marriage is that I wish I had known her much earlier in life, but even then there are reasons that probably wouldn’t have worked.

And then I just figure all those “what ifs” in my head are just opportunities for writing–if I could ever get myself to write them.

But that would be my biggest regret, and is still my biggest fear in life. It would be nice to think that the six+ years of effort on this blog will outlive me, or my scattered articles. I certainly have a legacy in my wife and children, and my students and friends and family. But my continuous regret and frustration in life is that I have been given so much talent, and yet the combination of pain and fatigue and practical daily realities has always impeded me from expressing it. To have but one success–in my art, my writing and/or my music–to feel like I had truly honored God’s gifts to me in those regards–then I could really say I’ve been a success.

Please pray that God will provide me with the time and energy and strength to use the gifts He has given me in whatever time I have left.

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6 responses to “Regret is a sin against Providence

  1. I do regret sin. Everything else is just life lived, lessons learned, etc.

    • Hi, Joy. Even sin, when forgiven and drowned in the Ocean of Mercy, shouldn’t be regretted. Consider the Office of St. Stephen, where the Church tells us how Stephen is grateful to Paul for sending him to heaven, and Paul is grateful to Stephen for praying for his conversion. Consider also Maria Goretti and Alejandro.

      • I don’t regret the sins of others, and that is what St. Stephen was talking about, the sins of Paul, not his own. I consider others’ sins against me as opportunities to forgive and offer up my suffering. That’s not regrettable. I do regret the sins that [i]I[/i] have committed. I am grateful for God’s forgiveness, but I still wish I’d never committed them.

      • Good point, but to continue to regret sin that one has confessed is to deny God’s power to forgive. Jesus told St. Faustina that those sins no longer exist–they’re engulfed in the Ocean of Mercy.

  2. Dear John,
    You have received feedback on success from some of your readers. As a retired career educator, I have occasionally garnered a few accolades, the plaques are without value and will someday be in a trash bin. The remembered comment from the adult about changing the young life, those are the only lasting treasures. No stock market crash, housing devaluation, or tax increase can touch these treasures. Our earthly lives do go on through our children, as for everything else – “Blessed be the poor.”
    Love ‘
    Mom and Dad

  3. The Catechism teaches that the sacrament of Penance removes the guilt of our sins, so that they won’t send us to Hell. The sacrament does not remove the punishment due us for our sins, though. That is what Purgatory is for. If it worked like you suggest, a criminal with a wrap sheet 12 miles long could make a deathbed confession and go right to Heaven. There is no justice in that. We can remit the punishment due us through offering up our suffering, or through acts of charity, but forgiveness does not mean that Justice will not be served. That is one of the most beautiful things that separate Catholic teaching from Protestant. Purgatory makes so much more sense than just Heaven-or-Hell. I would argue that none of us is really worthy of Heaven, except maybe the Saints. God is infinitely Merciful, but He is also infinitely Just.

    It is wrong to continue to worry about sins which have been forgiven, but I don’t think it’s wrong to wish you’d never committed them, or to offer up your sufferings in remittance, or perform charitable works for the same reason. That’s what regret means. Going further, I’d argue that forgetting about your sins is dangerous, because you forget the pain they caused to your soul, and are more likely to commit them again. I would rather remember, and remain therefore forever grateful to my loving Father for his forgiveness of them. Maybe I’m of a more depressive bent than others, but I am constantly aware of how unworthy I am of God’s love. I pray for things, but I always say, “Your will be done, and I gladly accept whatever You want for me.”

    Hmm..I’m getting off track here.

    I believe it is right and good to regret our sins, not to the extent that we scruple over them, but for a threefold purpose:
    1. that we recall the harm they did, to avoid future transgressions
    2. that we offer up suffering and charitable works to remit them
    3. that we remain ever grateful to our Loving God for his Mercy and Forgiveness

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