Today is my 25th birthday and I find myself thinking about regrets. This may sound like a gloomy and depressing stream of thought, especially during a celebratory occasion, but it’s not. At least not anymore.
My past regrets used to have such a suffocating hold— condemning me with feelings of shame or embarrassment that were difficult to escape. At times I would lay in bed restless as I replayed conversations or arguments where I thought I should have listened more, spoken less, and vice versa. Struggling with regret was much like living with a tomato-throwing audience on the inside of me. There was no need for haters as I often did their job myself.
Perhaps my biggest regrets lay with the things I wish I had done. I have no stories of fighting the bully or walking out on a much-hated job. Rather than stand up for myself, I just saw it as my cross to bear. I liked to play it safe because it was well, safe, and confrontation felt like the opposite. There were many times I repressed my truth or diluted my strength out of consideration for the status quo and the feelings of others. I’ve replied, “I love you, too” because girls were supposed to want the happily ever after. I second guessed my dream of moving away to DC for undergrad thanks to someone who didn’t believe in their own dream.
My biggest regret had been not living out my truth, and now that I’ve found it, no one can pry it from my grasp. No longer will I say yes to things to things I don’t actually want because as Lena Dunham once said, “It’s really liberating to say no to sh— you hate.”
As a recovering perfectionist I’ve since learned to be cautious about regretful thinking, because it comes disguised as healthy reflection. Joan Chittister, author of The Gift of Years, once wrote, “Regret, one of the ghosts of aging, comes upon us one day dressed up like wisdom, looking profound and serious, sensible and responsible.” It may seem innocent in the beginning to look back and wonder how we all got to where we are, but the aftermath it evokes are more like punishment than innocent reminiscing.
Should I have walked away from my first love before our relationship became sour? Did I need that tattoo? What if I applied to my dream college rather than listen to the voice that told me I could never afford it? Why didn’t I stand up for myself against that boss who would belittle me?
I could try to go on and on until I fall into a deep abyss of missed opportunities and unwise choices, but it would all be a waste of time. Chittister best explains, “Regret demands to know why I did what I did in the first place. And I don’t know.” Whatever response or excuse I come up with will never be enough. “Why?” is one of the most frustrating questions because the best answer you come up with still doesn't satisfy. And that's because it won’t change a thing about the past.
Our power does, however, lie within our perspective. The flaws in my personal theology prevented me from accepting forgiveness and unconditional love from both myself and God. But it took a divine revelation of His grace to understand that I no longer have to live with regret because I've been redeemed. I am free from the bondage of what could have been, because I have hope in what will be.
Life, from the time we begin to grasp right and wrong, is a continuous journey of redemption. I am proud of who I’ve grown to be not solely because of my accomplishments, but because of how I’ve bounced back after falling short. I know what it means to endure and without learning to grow from my mistakes, the foundation of character would be like straw. Unreliable and lacking in strength, as it swayed wherever the wind blew. To regret a single thing would be an insult to my growth.
My mistakes have put me in a position to win, as paradoxical as it sounds. That’s the hand of God and His magnificent artistry of turning lemons into lemonade, sorrow into joy, and tears into laughter. And I am forever grateful as I wake to see a quarter century. I greet 25 full of expectation and free from regrets.