Recently my brother and I found ourselves in NYC, on a trip we had dreamed about for years and planned for months. I couldn’t believe we were actually—finally—in New York City. Every step was exciting, every obscure building a photo op.
As the days flew by, I quickly realized things I wished we had done differently. For instance, we didn’t plan as much time for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as I would have liked, and we had to speed through the last exhibits in the Museum. I also wished we had called our hotel ahead of time to ask about baggage storage after checkout; had we known about that cheap option we would have chosen later flights on our departure day and had one last sightseeing opportunity.
At some point in life, each of us will have regrets about harder things than travel plans. Most of us already do. When the what-ifs and if-onlys in plague our memories, here are three things it helps to remember.
We Are Not Perfect
We will not lead perfect lives. We are not strong enough or wise enough to do everything right, and to be human is to belong to that globally inclusive club of Those Who Mess Things Up. As Christians, we know that one of the Gospel’s central truths is that we will never be perfect—and we don’t have to be.
It is one of the ironic things of life that this truth is more liberating than condemning. Since we know that we and everyone around us will fail sometimes, it is not as much of a shock to us when we do.
God is Bigger Than Our Failures
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).
No matter how serious our mistakes and problems, they cannot be greater than the power, grace, and love of God. Far from it: our greatest failure became His deepest gift of redemption. I mean, really. Think you’ve messed things up? Talk to Adam and Eve in the garden, with fruit juice staining their hands and nakedness taunting their conscience.
He knows our hearts. He knows we will never be perfect on our own. No matter how many mistakes and failures occur between now and heaven, our imperfections are covered by His perfect grace.
Because our perfection no longer depends on what we do.
When We Fail We Lose Nothing
So we should have done it differently, and we didn’t. We may be frustrated with our own ineptness, or, in a more serious situation, grieve what could have been had we done things right. We may need to apologize and seek forgiveness, depending on the mess we made this time.
But then we move on. We don’t have to live in that failure, or build up layers of restitution until we earn our way out of debtor’s prison. All the important things are still true, untouched by our inability and failure and stupidity.
God is still on His throne. We are still His people. He is still writing our story and everyone else’s, and no matter what glitch we think we caused in this chapter, He has already made it into something good that we will see with time.
Our faith is founded (partially) on our failure to be good. Catch that? Our faith is founded on our failure. Through the sacrificial death of Christ, our perfection is found in our identity with Him. Our failures can’t touch that.
In all those little and not-so-little messes of our own making, our identity stands strong and firm in the righteousness gifted to us by Christ. We don’t lose any standing with God or drop a rung on the ladder to heaven. Our relationship with Him is a gift, and will stay that way regardless of our stumblings.
When Those Regrets Come
As we travel through life, there will be problems in the journey. Dreams-come-true morph into mild disasters and our best efforts disintegrate into Have-I-Ever-Told-You stories.
We will have regrets. As we lay them at the feet of the God who sees our faltering efforts and knows our weak human hearts, we can trust He will keep us from stumbling too far and that His grace can cover all our if-onlys. Each of our regrets drives us to Him who does all things well, and who welcomes us with all our failures still attached.