mowing the lawn and regret
"my biggest regret is that I feel at fault for my aging grandmother's death. I think about it most when I'm mowing the lawn."
I hope my face wasn't as surprised as my ears at his answer. I mean, it was just an ice-breaker question*. And in my defense, his answer wasn't remotely proportional to my "greatest" regret of not playing baseball in high school. In any case, mowing the lawn is suppose to be the sacred ground of mindlessness for a man, and clearly regret was ruining that refuge.
I've discovered I regret a lot of things. A lot more than I ever would've guessed. I've also discovered that regret is often the enemy of my hopes. It crushes the most basic impulse for the next productive step in a given day, much more the vision for virtuous living. And it's not even quartered to my heavier regrets, like self-loathing or ignoring abuse or not visiting my grandparents when they were dying, or numerous other relationships I've bungled. And then momentary discontents are always flitting through my mind in a given hour, like what I shouldn't have eaten, or the route I could've taken to work, or what I should've said to save face that one time. Taken together, it's surprisingly easy to miss how these things heap on and how rarely we shake an old grief, much less deflect new ones.
And yet I'm not paralyzed by these regrets, and I venture to say most people, though heavily burdened, are also not actually immobilized to live and live well. And it's not simply a matter of focusing on the good, and keeping some positive thoughts in balance and practicing body scans and forming breathing practices. In fact quite the opposite. One of the most startling miracles our character formation is that traumas and suffering inevitably shape our resilience and compassion. Like an emotional immune system, suffering and regret may in many ways sicken us, but they also inevitably strengthen us to love others who have experienced the same, and even open us up to receive care from those who have suffered alike.
St Paul said, "Blessed is the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so we may comfort those in any affliction with the same comfort which we received and are comforted." But the great miracle of regret is here only implied; the comfort with which we comfort others in their affliction must then be the comfort that God found in HIS OWN affliction, his own pain, and dare I say, his own regret. The author of Hebrews says it more directly: "The son of God is the radiance of his glory, the exact image of his being, and...is not ashamed to call them brothers...Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death...therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest... (Hebrews 1-2). Perhaps there are nits to pick regarding the perfection of Christ in regret, but the grand mystery of our God's care for us isn't really that he might bring us to a great triumph - that's pretty obvious - but that he might bring us there by first walking along side us in his very own regrettable, human experience; becoming at very least, someone who gets the pain of mistakes and memories and long faces and dark nights. What I'm trying to note is this, the belief "We love others, because he first loved us" necessitates something quite startling: Our regrettable lives allow us to love others deeply, because God's regrettable life first allowed him to love us deeply.
It is here, in Christ, that I find the courage to no longer crumble under my regrets. In other words, I have all my regrets still, but I no longer regret my regrets. Rather regrets empower me to come alongside the broken hearts of my friends and enemies, just as God has come along side me, having inside himself a broken heart just like the rest of us. It is in the regrets of God that we can find hope to mow the lawn carefree, and help our neighbors do the same.
*yes, I'll be working on my get-to-know-ya small talk