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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Facing Regrets


During this Lenten season, our church is focusing on the concept of reconciliation.  And as part of it, remembering passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 where the core description of Christ’s work is summed up in the concept of reconciliation. 

Yesterday, the passage for the day was Genesis 32, where Jacob is returning to his homeland, after being run out of his uncle’s land.  As Jacob heads home, he does so with a great deal of uncertainty, because he knows that his brother awaits him.  In fact, when he sends word ahead that he is coming, and then hears his brother is coming to meet him with 400 men, Jacob moves from uncertainty to absolute terror!  He is convinced that his brother is coming to destroy him.  Why does he believe that?  Because Jacob remembers how he had mistreated his brother, and he knows he deserves whatever his brother chooses to dish out.  Suddenly, prayer seems like a really good idea to Jacob!

After all those years of being away, when he hears that his brother is coming out to meet him, his first thought is to the selfish errors of his past.  It is clear that those memories have been haunting Jacob.  During all the time he was helping his uncle Laban, and his uncle was cheating him, I suspect many a day Jacob thought to himself that had he only not done his brother wrong, then Jacob could have been at home with his dad, working in his homeland, working with his own herds there.  But he remembered what he had done that got him into the situation, and as his uncle Laban tricked and cheated Jacob, Jacob began to understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of deception such as he had perpetrated on his brother. 

In the story, Jacob flees Laban, and heads home, but heads toward an uncertain greeting.  Jacob realizes now the mess he has created, but he still heads toward home.  He is told that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men, but instead of running away, he continues to head home, to head directly toward the individual he has wronged and all the consequences of his past actions.  Jacob had lots of regrets, but instead of ignoring them, or running away from them, he realized that he needed to reconcile himself to his past, and to the consequences of his actions.  He had to face the past head on.  So although he must certainly have been tempted to run the other way, he doesn’t.  He is ready to deal with his past, to take responsibility for his actions, to eat a little humble pie, and to lay to rest the regrets that have troubled him for so many years.  And he chooses to do those things whether or not his brother is willing to forgive him….because he is not doing it for his brother’s sake, he is doing it for his own peace of mind, and for the sake of his relationship with God.

Many people I have talked to can name some things they wish they had done differently, or things that they regret in their past.  Some of those people have let those regrets drag them down and keep them discouraged.  Divorced people often express regrets in terms of whether they had worked hard enough at their marriage, or why they hadn’t listened to good advice and not married that person in the first place, or they regret that they didn’t end the marriage sooner and prevent all the years of heartache in a miserable relationship. 

You may have other regrets you live with.  I’d like to make a suggestion today.  As we discussed in worship this week, we can let our regrets weigh us down and fill us with sorrow for the past and fears for the future.  Or, we can choose, as Jacob did, to have the courage to face those regrets, take responsibility for the choices we made and the consequences of those choices, make what amends we can, but then instead of letting those regrets dominate our present, we let them inform our future to help us make better choices in the days ahead.

Life is not structured in such a way that we are given the chance to go back and redo most of the mistakes we make.  But it is structured so that we can learn from those mistakes, and grow into a better, wiser and healthier person as a result.  It takes courage to own up to your own shortcomings, and to go back to the people you have hurt to try to make things right, whether they are interested in hearing it or not.  But a little courage now can go a long way toward a peaceful conscience later.  

Don’t let yourself get dragged down in the swamp of regrets.  Instead, own up to what you have done that you now regret, make amends where you can, accept that you have screwed up just like everyone else, and then let God use those things to shape you into a better person, as he did for Jacob when he transformed him into Israel, the prince of God!

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