I am a Catholic. I am divorced.
Those two parts of my being don’t always sit comfortably together, but it is reality for millions of people worldwide, and it’s my reality.
My parents stayed married until death did them part, and they were truly miserable for most of their lives together. They made their children miserable. They were determined to not divorce, and they both ended up bitter, manipulative, and extremely unhappy. With that example in mind, I had determined my own vocation was to be single, to never have children. There are many ways to serve God, I decided, and this was my way.
That lasted until my thirties, when I met Paul, not only someone I could fall in love with, but someone I felt I could build a life with. I prayed and prayed and really believed that this was the right thing to do. And perhaps it was; but it wasn’t forever. I won’t go into the details of our later separation and divorce; what I will say is that the fault for it, so to speak, was shared.
Regrets? Are you kidding? Of course I’ve had regrets around it! I’ve been hurt, and I’ve hurt others. But what I’ve come to realize is that my divorce, while painful and in some ways a source of shame, is also not the only event of my life. I’ve been like most of us: sometimes selfish, sometimes generous; sometimes thoughtful, sometimes impulsive; sometimes clever and sometimes very, very stupid. We’re complicated beings and we live complicated lives, and that will always result in having some regrets.
I turn as always to scripture for help, and I see there are many people in the Bible who did some pretty horrific things that would almost inevitably be cause for regret. One of the most famous is Saul, who had so energetically attacked the followers of Jesus before receiving a vision of God on the road to Damascus; he turned from his past and embraced his future as the apostle Paul.
And yet that didn’t mean he attained perfection! In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes,
It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ. Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
Essentially what God is doing is setting the bar high: this is the behavior expected of Christians. But God also knows us, knows who we are, and absolutely knows we will not always attain that goal, behave at that level. He knows we’re going to make mistakes even before we make them. What matters, as Paul writes, is looking forward: failing, and then trying again. We are all works in progress, we haven’t “attained perfect maturity,” but we’re trying. That’s what God asks of us.
Messing up is part of the human condition. The more challenges and situations you take on, the more likely you are to make some mistakes. God doesn’t want you sitting in a room afraid to move lest you do something wrong. God wants you out there in his beautiful world, doing what you can to reflect his love to others. Now. In the present.
Because no obsessing about mistakes happens in the present. All this torturous activity takes place either in the past or in the future, so pay attention to your inner dialogue. Catch the “if onlys…” and bring yourself back to the present.
My divorce is inextricably part of who I am. It’s never going away. But many good things came into my life with my “failed” marriage, including two beautiful stepchildren I was honored to parent as they grew up. How can I regret their ongoing presence in my life, and mine in theirs? God gives us amazing gifts that don’t exist in a void; the context is our lives, messy and complicated and confusing as they are. But we do have some power over our regrets: we can choose for them to be a dead end, or merely a detour.
The truth is, no one can change the past. There are things that, no matter how much we wish we could change, we can't. This is where we get to—where we have to—choose: to accept what we cannot change and let God's grace cover the situation, or to hold onto the pain and listen to our own voice instead of God’s.
by Jeannette de Beauvoir
I've spent a week interviewing the author of this new book Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life's Disappointments. Sr Kathryn and I had some great conversations for her new podcast which will be available next week. I found her insights inspiring and healing...and I think she is healing herself from regrets. It is an ongoing journey, because regrets are a part of who we are, the beauty of who we are. That's her message. It is the face of Jesus that heals us.
This practical, hope-filled book, is beautifully written and full of wisdom gleaned from years of personal experience and ministry. In Reclaim Regret Sr. Kathryn serves as a trustworthy guide, leading you first into the heart of God and then into your own heart. I encourage you to read this book with an open heart and then enter into the healing meditations that make up the second part of the book. As you do, you will engage in a process of deep soul healing, releasing the regrets and disappointments that have prevented you from living the fullness of joy that Jesus promises.
—Bob Schuchts, founder of John Paul II Healing Center, Tallahassee, Florida, and author of Be Healed: A Guide to Encountering the Powerful Love of Jesus in Your Life