The Religion of Regret

She was putting on her wedding dress when his letter arrived. It was twenty minutes till nine. The day, the hour, and the minute that were to cast a pall over the remainder of her life. The man to whom she had given her heart, whom she dared to trust, had raped her joy and skulked away. She stood broken before the altar.

Shattered and humiliated, she had every clock in her home frozen at 8:40 a.m. Every day afterward she donned that yellowed, tattered wedding dress of her ruined youth. The cake, that sweet, edible emblem of joy, remained uneaten. It sat atop the kitchen table, hardened and molded, an inedible icon of her heart.

She is Miss Havisham, the unforgettable character in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. This woman is a model worshiper in an ancient cult: the religion of regret. Her devotion is to a past that will not allow her to live fully in the present, much less to delight in a future. @@For in Miss Havisham’s religion, hope is the unforgivable sin.@@

As with so many things, regret can begin as something natural, even beneficial, as you struggle to recover from a wound in your past. But over time, regret can devolve from a sadness to a sickness. We entomb ourselves in the sands of failure. We exist but don’t really live. Outwardly alive but inwardly deceased. We crawl into the future as a shadow of our former selves. For the rest of the world, time ticks on, but the hands on the clocks in our heads and hearts are all handcuffed to the moment of regret.

The odd thing is that, as depressing as this captivity to regret is, we who have suffered through it tend to deify it. It becomes our lord, a god who demands, and usually gets, our all. This religion has a sacrament: a baptism of ice, which freezes us to the past. Its liturgy includes the rites of scab-picking and wound-licking. Our sacred text is the story of our life’s undoing. We read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the bible of our betrayal. Our hearts blather out doleful songs of lament, the refrain of which is always, “If only, if only, if only….”

But the whole time that lament is sung, there is another song, full of enlivening music, that also chants, “If only….” It goes something like this: “If only you would come to me, you who are weary and heavy laden, I will give you rest.” And, “If only you will remove that funereal wedding dress, I will deck you out in robes of joy, for I will clothe you with my righteousness and life.” And, “Trash that cobwebbed cake and, here, ‘Take, eat, this is my body, given for you; take, drink, this is my blood, shed for you, that in me you might have peace and love and more hope than you ever dreamt of.’”

This is the voice of Jesus calling, not worlds away but inches away. Skin to skin with you. @@The God lodged within the crevices of your broken heart.@@ He is fully present in the midst of your grief. He never gives up on you. He ceaselessly beckons you to life again. He will invade the cathedral of regret and bear you forth into the light of hope once more.

The religion of regret is a religion of the lie. Its ultimate claim is that there is no more hope in this life. But nothing could be further from the truth; and this truth shall set you free. Jesus is hope embodied, the flesh-and-blood hope of a God who raises the deadest of the dead. He who can enliven even a corpse, will raise you from the grave in which you have entombed yourself under the sands of regret. He will unfreeze you from that baptism of ice with the warmth of his blood that streams from wounds suffered to heal you. In his arms, you will look up to see the face of the God who will never turn his back on you.

Christ does more than make you alive. He is life itself, your life in the midst of the death you feel. In him you live and move and have your being—and your joy. In him you become heaven’s child, one who bears the divine image. And your clocks tick on, liberated from the past, counting the days and hours and minutes until you have finally passed through this life of trials, and enter into your Father’s house, where happiness truly knows no end.