But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead… (Philippians 3:13)
I pack a lot of that around. It is a near constant companion it seems. It looms large in my mind. And while I have regrets in a lot of life’s places, it is most noticeable when it comes to my boys. I regret that I have not been the mother I always hoped I’d be. I have let time slip through my fingers and now the littlest boy starts school in a week. And my mind is full of regret for the time that I’ve let pass by. Have I cheated them out of what I owe them? What will my children remember me for? Will they remember the mother who took them to the zoo and the playground? Or will they remember the mother who couldn’t get off the couch? Will they remember the mother who pushed Matchbox cars around on the floor or the one who was too busy doing nothing? And honestly, I did do the good things once in a while. It wasn’t always a peanut butter and jelly and Caillou. Some days I did the good things. But more days, I didn’t.
And so I stand here at the end of a chapter and I am filled with regret.
I am hard on myself, I know. I beat myself silly over the time I’ve wished away. The days that seemed so long that I couldn’t wait for them to be over, to climb in bed and be done for the day. I beat myself over the head with regret, never giving myself the grace to fall down, yet falling down so often. And shame creeps in sidling up with regret to pull me down even further.
But bad days aren’t every days. There are good ones mixed in there too; those days we played Battleship or passed the football in the yard. When I used to push them on the swings and catch them at the bottom of the slide. The ones filled with laughter and smiles. Days when I loved them well. These are the days I remember and hold on to, though I wonder if they will.
To be fair, I have struggled with mental illness their whole lives. That’s a reason but not an excuse, though I have used it as an excuse. An illness that left me debilitated, not able to leave the bed. One that left me a raging machine, unable to find anything but anger in the messes and tears. I have found no grace for myself in those moments. Only shame and regret. And in that shame and regret, I lug around a lot of baggage. The “should haves,” the “oughts,” and the “might have beens.” They are like weights on my shoulders, pushing me into the ground.
What do I do with the “should haves?” Can I pay them back for all the “might have beens?” God knows I have tried. Tried with trips to McDonald’s and Krispie Kreme. Tried with ice cream cones and slushies. Tried with things, not time. And time is what they crave. What they long for. And I had it to give, still have it to give. Will I?
Regret dies slowly and shame even slower. And I want to know, is there time left to redeem my motherhood? Is there grace enough for the loss? I can never live up to the standards I place on myself. I’m not sure anyone can. There’s always some regret, some way it could have been better, even for the best of us. But we aren’t our worst days any more than we are our best days.
And there is hope born in the ashes of my failure. Which means that I don’t have to live in the regret. I can forget what lies behind. Tomorrow can be a better day. I can live richly with my children in the todays and tomorrows and redeem the time I’ve lost. That time is gone for sure, but the future still lies ahead and that is the part to strain for, to hope for. I’m more than a little sad for the loss, for the time that is gone like water down a drain. But there is hope. A hope that comes from God. It comes from him saying that I am enough even with my failures. I don’t have to live in the shame of what I haven’t done. Shame and regret are tied together like a thick cord. And how do I untie that knot? By resting in the knowledge that I am loved perfectly my Father. And he loves my boys perfectly, too. By knowing that where I have failed them, he has never and will never fail them. I don’t have to live in regret and shame because I am forgiven. Because I am loved.
So there is still hope for me. Hope for football games and soccer matches. Tee-ball games and violin recitals. For driving lessons and first dates. For regular days too; lazy days and crazy days. I can be present now and that is enough. The past is gone. The now is all I’ve got.
And what if this thing that feels like an ending to me is actually a beginning?
©stephanie g. pepper