- Embracing the Future
- Philippians 3:12-14
- Lyndol Loyd May 20, 2018
You shoulda, you coulda, you woulda… but you didn’t. Does this sound familiar to you? Does this ring a bell? It is the sound of regret reverberating in our minds.
Not regret like I shouldn’t have had that second brownie for dessert, but regret that haunts you. Most often it arises in our lives in the form of what I would like to call an “If only…” statement.
- If only I’d taken my education more seriously.
- If only I’d talked to my Dad before he died.
- If only I’d taken that other job.
- If only… (You fill in the blank.)
Whether it is over the road not taken or the one taken too long, “If only…” statements can hound a person to death. Literally. As a pastor, I find that one of the things I talk to people about a great deal is their regrets.
Which leads me to an extremely important question that is worth all of us taking a moment to contemplate: At the end of your life, will you look back over time and be content with how you spent your days? Or will you wrestle with regrets?
Will you examine your days, weeks, months and years and find comfort and grace or will you find yourself dwelling on what might have been?
The past has a way of acting as a powerful force in our present living. The past either acts as a springboard to a better tomorrow or it acts as a chain that shackles us from moving forward.
There is an old story about a Kentucky farmer known as Mr. Claypool. A storm blew through his property and did a great deal of damage. One of the victims of the storm was an old pear tree which had stood on his family farm for six generations. Mr. Claypool was deeply grieved at the loss of the tree which he had once climbed as a boy and whose fruit he had eaten.
A neighbor was talking to Mr. Claypool and said, “I’m sorry about your tree blowing down. What are you going to do?”
To which Mr. Claypool responded, “I’m sorry too. It was really part of my past. I’m going to pick the fruit and burn what’s left.”
His response may have been literal, but I can’t help thinking the astute farmer meant it figuratively as well. We all need to pick the fruit form our past and burn what’s left. We need to learn whatever lessons the past has to teach us and move forward with more wisdom under our belts.
Mr. Claypool could have attempted to hang on to his tree, but it wouldn’t have done any good. He could have attempted to keep it, but if he had, all of the fruit would have rotted in time and most likely the wood would have become infested with insects.
Regret, left unattended, can work much the same way. Regret can be tough for us to let go of, but it is something that each of us must learn to do in life if we are going to ever experience what it means to live life in all of its fullness.
Maybe a good place for us to start is to define what we mean by regret. For our purposes, when we talk about regret we are talking about “A feeling of disappointment, distress, or heartache over an unfulfilled desire or an action performed or not performed.”
Regret can fall anywhere along a continuum from mere frustration with not being able to do something all the way, to a painful sense of loss. Regret can be about things done or undone. It applies to things that we have done and it applies to things that were done to us. For this reason, regret is something that we all live with.
Imagine for just a moment a colony of grubs living on the bottom of a swamp. Every once in a while, one of these grubs is inclined to climb a leaf stem to the surface. Then he disappears above the surface and never returns.
All the grubs wonder why this is so and what it must be like up there, so they talk amongst themselves and decide that the next one who goes up will come back and tell all of the others.
Not long after that, one of the grubs feels the urge and climbs that leaf stem and goes out above the surface onto a lily pad. And there in the warmth of the sun, he falls asleep.
While he sleeps, the casing around this tiny creature breaks open, and out of the grub comes a magnificent dragonfly with beautiful, wide, multi-colored, iridescent wings.
He spreads those wings and flies, soaring out over those waters. But then he remembers the commitment he has made to those behind, yet now he knows he can’t return. They would not recognize him if he did, and beyond that, he could not live again in the place where he started.
Like the lowly grub, each of us fears what is beyond our current circumstances. There is comfort in knowing what to expect, even if it is not as good as we think it could be.
The power of this innate desire to hold on to what we know can compel a mistreated or abused person to put up with misery in order to have the payoff of knowing what is coming next.
It stands to reason that when we wallow in regret, we fear what would happen if we were to let it go. That is why so many of us hold on to regret for so long. It is what we know and in some odd, warped sort of way, we find comfort in the familiarity of it.
It doesn’t matter if you are an athlete, a stay-at-home mom, a business executive, a teacher or any other occupation – staying in your comfort zone of what is will likely rob you of what could be.
Too many people are stuck in the rut of regret because they fear what the future might hold. If they were to let go of what they know they don’t know exactly where that might take them so they settle for something far less.
Hanging on to the past doesn’t help us embrace the future. Mr. Claypool understood this truth, a newly formed dragonfly gets it and so did the Apostle Paul as we see demonstrated in his writings in the New Testament book of Philippians 3:12-14.
“12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Paul is trying to grasp hold of the purposes of God. You see, Paul remembers what his life was like before he was a Christian. He remembers when he was on the Damascus road and God stopped him cold in his tracks.
Once he encountered the living God, it was made abundantly clear to him that God had a greater purpose for his life and that he had a responsibility to press on; to move forward. Paul’s past didn’t matter anymore. It was about the future God had for him.
Not only Paul, but each one of us is called by God for a special purpose and so, like Paul, each one of us needs to press on so that we can grasp the purposes of God with how we live our lives.
But in order to press on, it requires that we forget the things that are behind us. It means that can’t be shackled by a load of regret that we carry around with us.
Through relationship with Jesus Christ, we as Christians are uniquely equipped to be able to leave the past behind; but yet, how many of us don’t?
Past sin and regret continues to drag us back, weigh us down, and make our movement stumble-filled at best. This inability to leave the past behind contradicts everything we confess about the healing, forgiving, redeeming power of God to work in our lives.
If God’s grace is so readily available, why do we not take advantage of it? Why don’t we appropriate it in our lives? If we don’t claim God’s grace, we are allowing regret to rob us of freedom. We allow regret to make us heavy hearted and to prevent us from experiencing joy.
If you are a movie buff then chances are that you are familiar with the 1954 classic, On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando as a former boxer named Terry Malloy. It has a piercing message for anyone who has ever struggled with regret.
When the movie begins, Terry’s boxing days are long past and he has been reduced to working as an errand boy for the mob.
As the movie progresses we learn that Terry once had the potential to be a championship prize fighter, but he squandered his opportunity by agreeing to the mob’s request that he take a dive in the boxing ring when he could have easily won a fight. Sadly, the encouragement to throw the fight came from his own mobster brother, Charlie.
The consequences of Terry’s choices were numerous:
- He squanders a promising boxing career and a shot at the title
- He become entangled with the mob and unwittingly, a mob hit.
When Terry is subpoenaed, the mob sends his brother, Charlie, to convince him to keep his mouth shut. One night, in the back of a cramped taxi, Charlie begins to chide Terry for squandering his boxing career.
“I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. Instead I’m a bum, which is what I am.” Just as quickly as Terry’s rage comes out, it also recedes. It is replaced with the hopeless look of a person who has seen his future slip away from him.
Have you ever felt that way? Have your regrets ever fueled you with a quick, burning passion, only to die before they get you to do something about them?
Deep down you know you could have been something you are not today because you chose the wrong road or maybe no road at all.
Your choice may concern a relationship, finances, family, career, or even your character. It may not be worthy of being made into a movie, but the personal consequences are just as dramatic.
Terry Malloy eventually redeems himself. He gets a grip on his regrets and stops looking back over his shoulder at what could have been. He begins making difficult, but good choices. Terry goes to trial and testifies against the mob and becomes the person he was destined to be.
That’s exactly what happens when we take the fruit from our past and burn to ashes the regrets and guilt that has weighed us down – we become who we were meant to be.
To live the Christian life is an invitation to embrace the future. It is an invitation to learn from our regrets no doubt, but at the same time to leave them behind as we press on toward the life God has called us to live.
God wants you to love the life you live, to achieve enduring peace and long lasting joy. God wants us to be able to live at a place where you have a deep level of emotional and spiritual health. Another way to say it is that Christ came so that we might experience life in all of its fullness.