At some point in life, in our younger or later years, we all do something or experience a situation that we truly regret. In our younger years, it is usually an individual situation, something we did, a decision we made, an experience we had, or an incident that has re-written the script of our life without our permission, such as an illness or accident. In our older years, we may feel uneasy as we recognize that a pattern of regret has stamped itself on our entire lifetime, creating an ocean of sorrow within and around us.
Each of us has arrived at the age we are now, bearing many scars. Some of us have scars from an imperfect or even abusive family life, unkind teachers, envious siblings, or teenage romances that broke our hearts. Others have been wounded by employers who fired us, spouses who betrayed us, colleagues who took advantage of us, and children who were ungrateful. Our regrets are built on years of memories of hurts and disappointments, both intentional and accidental.
Some people may feel like victims of random situations or hurtful relationships. We don’t know why things happen to us the way they do. Our lives don’t match up with the seemingly magical lives of those around us, and we don’t understand why. But the “random” situations in our life that we regret are anything but random. It is possible, and even liberating, to identify the recurring patterns that lay beneath our regrets.
The patterns beneath our regrets can be difficult to discover because on the surface every situation is unique. For example, consider Stacy, a woman with a successful career as a lawyer. She is a no-nonsense person who gets what she wants, regardless of how it may affect others. As a parent she challenges any negative feedback regarding her children. She pushed her oldest child to attend a top-rated college and to follow in her footsteps in the field of law. While Stacy acts differently in her career than in her parenting, we can see a similar pattern in both spheres. As a lawyer and a parent, Stacy tries to dominate and force others to do what she wants. In one sphere it might work, but in another it causes Stacy serious problems and leads to broken relationships.
Scott is someone who finds his life frustrated by a series of failures that he always thinks another person caused. For every failure, Scott faults anyone but himself. When something goes wrong, Scott has fallen into the habit of shifting the blame and not taking responsibility. People who are close to Scott try to help him see the part he plays in his difficulties, but he is not open to feedback. But if Scott looked closely he would realize that his own thoughts, beliefs, and responses play a part in this pattern of blame in his life.
Each of these unfortunate situations is unique because every one of us is unique and we experience the world differently. Yet our experiences often form a more general underlying pattern. Unless we make a concerted effort we rarely discover these patterns, and when we can’t see them we are doomed to repeat them again and again.
When I was told that identifying patterns behind the things I regret in my life was a powerful way to make new choices for my future, I was skeptical. “Prove it,” I said. But when I tried this little exercise I began to clearly see some of the patterns that were influencing the circumstances in my life. First, identify an issue that is causing disruption in your life. Count back seven years and ask yourself if you experienced the same issue in some aspect of your life seven years ago. Count back another seven years and do the same. And another seven years. And another until you can go back no further.
The patterns in our life help us to identify something within ourselves that needs God’s mercy and his compassionate Healing. We can also hear our own inner heart-cry for mercy and compassion, that special gift we alone can give to the wounded places in ourselves. Amazingly, as we bring these patterns to the Lord for healing, the situations around us begin to change. As we grow in freedom, in some mysterious way so also do others.