Drew Barrymore, among countless others, once remarked, “I have no regrets in my life whatsoever.” Such a statement is almost breathtaking in its naiveté. Because unless you are pathological, it isn’t possible to live without some degree of regret.

It would seem that popular culture is doing its level best to convince us that regret only serves the weak-minded. That strength is determined by how well we suppress, or altogether abolish, our feelings of guilt and shame. Accordingly, to regret is a kind of moral failing that can be easily overcome by simply “accepting yourself (and forcing everyone else to accept you) exactly as you are.” Never mind the anger, the cheating, the name-calling, the backbiting, the lying, the drinking, the unkindness – indeed, the violence. Everything about you, apparently, is exactly right. It is exactly as it should be. And nothing you’ve ever done should cause you to feel any differently.

I can think of few things that are as pernicious as the idea that any acknowledgment of our mistakes makes us unworthy of the love and respect inherently due to every member of the human family. Because there is no escaping the fact that there are things about us – sometimes very ugly things – that are not only wrong, but that need to change. However, and this is important, this isn’t just true of some of us. It is true of all of us. So if you are unworthy of love and respect due to your misdeeds and imperfections, then so too am I. In fact, so too is everyone else. And if that’s true, then we live in a world without hope and it doesn’t much matter what we do.

For the record, I have regrets. In fact, if I could turn back time and correct certain things, I would do it without a moment’s hesitation. In many things over the course of my life, if the opportunity existed, I would choose differently.

Sure, we are the people we are today because of the choices we made yesterday. And maybe we really like the person we have become. Maybe we don’t. But have you never considered that had you chosen differently yesterday that you might be a better person today? In fact, without this realization, how could we possibly hope for a better tomorrow?

And what about the people we care most about? Is it not possible that had we chosen differently that they, too, might be better people today? That they might have avoided some of the pain and suffering and disadvantage our choices caused them? Remember, we’re not islands unto ourselves. We don’t live in isolation. It’s not just us that our choices affect.

To be sure, the gravitational pull toward the idea that we have nothing to regret charms only those individuals who are not grounded in reality – individuals who lack the emotional maturity necessary to admit when they are wrong. For the rest of us, however, the only remedy for regret is repentance. It is the only path forward. Every other path is a spiritual and emotional dead end. Repentance is the only responsible response to the wrongs we have committed. Any other response only serves to stunt our personal development and alienate us from the people we care most about – to include God.

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