I had just finished speaking about living with no regrets. A gentle-spirited, older woman approached me. She was complimentary. She was not, however, her normal, cheerful self. She wore a worried expression on her face, which I was not accustomed to seeing there. So, I asked if there was something she wished to discuss.
“Well,” she said, “I agree with you that we should try to live without regrets. This is certainly the right thing to do. But, I think you should have included a thing or two in your talk about what we should do with our regrets. Everyone has regrets, you know?”
Now, I knew this woman fairly well. I knew her to be loved and respected by, well, everyone. I couldn’t imagine what she regretted that was troubling her so.
I attempted to sidestep the matter and change the subject. I don’t know why I did this. Perhaps I just assumed she was being overly sentimental, or something. She would have none of this. It was confessional time.
Right there in the lobby, with scores of people standing around, she discretely said, “Even though I don’t really recall thinking of it in these terms, I have tried to live my life with no regrets. But, I’ve made some pretty big blunders and have had to do my share of repenting and apologizing. So, I guess, I don’t really regret those things—the glaring things, you know?
She continued. “I trust that God has forgiven me for these things.”
“So,” I asked sincerely, “What is it that you regret?”
She replied, “One thing in particular. I think I regret it so much, because it’s too late now to do anything about it.”
Her eyes fell from mine and her head sank. She seemed to be studying the texture of the carpeting on the floor. My mind was racing. I remember thinking: What could this dear soul have done that could not be undone?
She relieved my curiosity when she looked up and said, “If I could re-do one thing in my life, I would be nicer to my husband. But, it’s too late now.”
We both knew what she was talking about. Her husband had been dead just over a year. I had helped her family bury this beloved man, to whom she had been married for more than 50 years.
I gave her a warm embrace and assured her that her husband loved her as deeply as any husband could ever love his wife. She agreed. Then she said, “I just wish I had not been so hard on him. We had a good marriage, for the most part. But, I’m afraid that I took advantage of his good nature. I never made anything easy, that’s for sure. I wonder what kind of man he would have been if he hadn’t had to put up with so much from me.”
Someone called her name. She gently touched my arm and thanked me for listening to an old woman’s woes. Then she went on her way. We never talked about the subject again. But, I’ve thought about it often.
What a thing to regret! It is something she could have so easily changed, if only she had decided to do it before it was too late. As I get older and see more of my friends and family members lose their loved ones, I think of this more often. Just the other day, when I was thinking about this gentlewoman’s confession another memory flashed through my mind.
I remembered the words spoken to me by the college roommate of one of my friends. We were more than just acquaintances, but not close friends. His name was Monty and he spoke two words which caught me by surprise, the first time I heard him say them. These words were: “Be sweet!”
He said this often. These two words were his usual parting exhortation. On one occasion, we were together at a fast food restaurant. I remember it as though it was yesterday. Monty offered thanks for our tacos and chalupas. Then he prayed, “Lord, help us to be sweet.” Well, maybe my memory isn’t as clear as I thought it was. I can’t remember the rest of the prayer. Really, I don’t know if I could have told you the rest of what he prayed immediately after he said the “amen”. There those two words were again. Be sweet!
His request was so simple—so basic—so unpretentious—so innocent—so pure—so sweet! Now, Monty was a manly man. No one would ever have thought of him otherwise. Yet, there he was unashamedly encouraging us to be sweet. More than that, he asked God to help us be sweet.
Monty was on to something! He was teaching us how to live in community with no regrets. It’s simple: Be sweet. There are so many verses that speak to this. There are the exhortations to kindness found in such passages as Ephesians 4:32 and Titus 2:5. But, the verses that really resonate with me are those found in 1 Corinthians 13. No doubt, we’ve heard these words hundreds of times: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…” Most of the ideas reflected in these verses could be summarized under the heading: God wants us to be sweet.
The difficulty we face, when it comes to living into the vision cast by such passages isn’t with knowing what we should do. The difficulty is, instead, with deciding to do it. Sometimes, it’s deciding to keep doing it.
Here’s where I think the two stories I’ve shared intersect. Our older sister teaches us that it’s usually not the big things we regret. They weigh on us so heavily that we tend to them. For example, if we blow it big time, our mistakes are so glaring that we can’t ignore them, even it we don’t want to face them.
On the other hand, it’s often the less obvious things—the things that happen out of view—that we push aside. For example, no one wants to treat other people badly. Well, I have known one or two that were bent this way. But, generally speaking, we want to treat others with love and respect. But, we are creatures of habit who sometimes develop bad habits, like forgetting to “be sweet”. So, every now and then, we need a Monty in our lives. We need someone who is strong enough to humbly ask God to help us be sweet. Otherwise, we might live to regret it.
© Bill Williams
May 30, 2006