I saw an ad for a movie in which a character had gotten the tattoo, “No Ragrets.” Not only is this hilarious (to me at least), but the saying itself, even when spelled correctly, is emblematic of our times.
If “no regrets” meant living so that nothing should be regretted, it would be a noble sentiment and goal. It is good to never have to wish we had treated people more justly or kindly. “No regrets” would be an admirable slogan if it meant approaching every decision with prudence and wise counsel of others. Discerning what is worthy of our time and energy can keep us from wasting our lives.
But too often the slogan indicates a stubborn refusal to regret actions that are truly regrettable. Those who never regret, never repent; they never ask forgiveness of those they wound. We should regret foolish or selfish things enough to stop doing them. A person without regrets is usually without wisdom.
Of course, spending all of one’s time moping over what “couda, shoulda, and wouda” happened is unwise and miserable. We should regret, sometimes repent, and move on with greater wisdom. Honest admission and regret of what was stupid or evil can help us escape vicious circles of self-destructive behavior. Too often no regrets equals no progress.
Some might argue that we should not regret anything from which we can gain wisdom. I suppose there is some wisdom that can only be learned from experience and mistakes, but most things can be learned more painlessly by obeying God’s Word and the wise counsel of others. For instance, I know some adults who now regret how terribly they treated their parents. Because I have always taken seriously the commandment to honor my parents, I have no regrets in that department (my regrets are elsewhere).
It is certainly true that God can use all our experiences—good, bad, and ugly—to teach us and equip us to help others. But God’s power to bring good from evil actions doesn’t mean we shouldn’t regret evil. God may powerfully use redeemed criminals to reach other inmates with the gospel, but it is still good and necessary for them to regret their crimes.
A better T-shirt slogan or tattoo would be “Pressing On” from Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
Yes, I have regrets, but I am pressing on a little wiser.