Rendering Regret, Receiving Redemptive Grace

As a hospital chaplain whose often with patients in their last few days of life, there is a sense of privilege in being able to provide spiritual care to those who are reaching the end of their physical life. With many of these patients, there is a feeling of peace and acceptance in their hearts in their final days.

However, for others in their final moments, there is a sense of regret and remorse during the last few days of their life.

From regrets in our past about our actions that were made out of arrogance and selfishness. To regrets in our past about how we treated those who were in our lives or those who we loved. Regret is a fabric that is woven into our life story. And forgiveness is what we seek not only from those we caused hurt and pain. But forgiveness is what we also seek from ourselves out of fear that our past will define us in the memories of those we leave behind.

“We see our sins reflected everywhere: in the pallor of our intimates’ faces, in the scratching of tree branches against windows, in the strange movements of everyday objects,” writes Anna Godbersen in the book titled ‘The Luxe.’ “These may be messages from God or tricks of the eye, but in neither case are we permitted to ignore them.”

Writer and novelist Charlotte Bronte once wrote, “Remorse is the poison of life.” I agree with her that living with regret is a poison which holds us hostage. But I also believe having regret can allow us to begin the process of accepting our own failings and allow us to search for the one who will liberate us from it.

For those of the Christian faith, The Christian gospel is not just about liberation from our world and the injustice in it, but it’s also about liberation from ourselves. For Jesus disciples, he shared the need for us to repent, but also the need for us to find liberation through him.

“Brothers (and Sisters), I do not consider that I have made it my own,” shares Paul in Philippians 3:13. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

While forgiveness is a gift which we may not always receive from others, it is a gift we will always receive from God if we genuinely seek it. Our regrets should not be seen as open wounds of remorse reminding us of our shameful past. Rather, our regrets should be seen as healed scar tissue which acknowledges our own shortcomings yet reminds us anything can be forgiven.

Yes, changing the past is something none of us are able to do. Yet through God’s grace, we are given the ability to heal our past.

“Once you have grace, you are free,” writes Thomas Merton. “When you are baptized, there is no power in existence that can force you to commit a sin-nothing that will be able to drive you to it against your own conscience. And if you merely will it, you will be free forever, because the strength will be given you, as much as you need, and as often as you ask, and as soon as you ask, and generally long before you ask for it, too.”

Christopher L. Schilling is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), hospital and Air Force chaplain, and a freelance writer.