A LIFE WITHOUT REGRET?
by Olatunde Howard, MA, LMFT
I used to want to live a life without regret. That was my actual goal. By a life without regret, I meant a life with a clear conscience. A life where I don’t make stupid or avoidable mistakes that have lasting consequences. And that is still my goal. But I stumbled on something in my time of meditation:
“Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from Me and not carried out My instructions.” 1 Samuel 15:10-11
This was God Himself speaking to Samuel. God had regret. How in the world was that possible? And it wasn’t the first time God expressed regret in the scriptures! Before the flood, God told Noah that He regretted making people because of all of the evil in the world. Again, how can God, the All Knowing, All Powerful, have regrets? And how can I, a mere mortal, want a life without regret if even God’s eternal and immortal life isn’t without regret?
As I meditated on this, I realized that since God has regrets, then regrets by definition can’t be a completely bad thing. For example, if I take a risk with you and I’m vulnerable with you, and you take advantage of my vulnerability, then I would regret being vulnerable. But my vulnerability wasn’t a bad thing. Nor the risk I took in being vulnerable with you. What I learned was that even God took a risk in making us, and in being vulnerable with us. And that when I take risks like vulnerability, or love, or trust, that risk may lead to fulfillment or regret. But the fulfillment of the intimacy that comes through vulnerability is worth the risk, even if it leads to regret.
So, is there life without regret? I don’t think so. At least not a life worth living. Some regrets are worth cherishing because they come from the risks we all take when we love, or when we’re vulnerable. Other regrets are avoidable and should be avoided, because they come from poor decisions on our part that resulted in our harm, or someone else’s harm. But how do we know which regrets in our lives are the ones we should cherish, or the ones we should avoid? The answer to this question may sometimes come in therapy.
Sometimes people come to therapy because they have regrets, or they want to live a life without regrets. In some ways, this is a good goal, because we can avoid certain mistakes, and thus certain regrets. Yet there are some regrets that are unavoidable, if we want to live life to the fullest. Therapy can help with this. It can help us distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable regret. It can help us take the risk of vulnerability when we’re seeking intimacy, or avoid taking that risk if doing so will only result in harm, to ourselves or someone else.
Olatunde Howard, MA, LMFT
Olatunde is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate. He graduated with honors from Pfeiffer University in North Carolina, a COAMFTE accredited program, with a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Music Composition with honors from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Read More
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