“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” (Luke 5:12-13)
Growing up in my household, like all other homes, we had rules, boundaries not to be crossed, and infractions that were subject to parental correction of various kinds. Certainly for the more major infractions there was spanking or the penultimate: “Wait till you father gets home!” In the immediate aftermath of such moments, while there might be the momentary, “this is unfair” coupled with thoughts of “No one loves me” and plans to run away, but by-in-large we truly never doubted we were loved.
And the wonderful thing about being kids, is that we soon forgot about it all unless there is some epic family tale that carries the collective memory of childhood transgressions. Myself, I have no memories of ever being punished (Note: my parents, God rest their souls, can not offer testimony and my sisters are unreliable witnesses at best. Don’t listen to them.) In any case, I have no regrets about my childhood actions.
Like you, I saved that for later. Perhaps my teenage years or as an adult. Things I did or failed to do, said or failed to say – moments when I hurt someone, when I should have been a better person, a more Christ-like witness to the faith I professed to live. Those are the moments in which regret lingers. And that can be OK.
If God can take the wood of a Roman torture device, crucifixion, and transform it into a sign Hope, then we can certainly use our memories and regrets as lesson learned and guide to living out the days to come. But sometimes those regrets are burdensome.
As a confessor you hear some folks say, “Father, I have confessed this before, but….” What follows is a recapitulation of the past sin and something akin to “…but I still feel so bad…” Regret. In some cases, perhaps it is a weakness in trust. They can’t believe God would, could, or even wants to forgive their sins. But 1 Tim 2:4 makes it quite clear, God desires that all be saved. “‘Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.’ Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.'” (Luke 5:12-13) I assure them that in their confession they were made clean. That doesn’t mean they forget – and so they need to pray about the regret and transform it into the Good, that it might help them be that better person. But for some people, the burden is not a passing memory, but lingers in their life in ways that makes the sin seem ever-present.
Interestingly, in Hebrew there is no single word for sin, but there are expressions. One of the older expressions for sin paints a picture of a person carrying a load on their shoulders. If you think about, it is not exactly easy to carry that load and have perfect posture. In fact, the larger and heavier the load, the more likely it is that you are, to some degree, bent over. Perhaps so bent over that it is hard to see the way forward – you are stuck in place. You can only look ahead with great difficulty. The “future” collapses to the next several steps; salvation is not in the field of vision and perhaps not even God’s desire that all be saved. Such is the legacy of sin – the burden we carry in memory and regret.
In this way, regret become the leprosy of our lives, eating away at all the good God has created. Maybe we have been the leper at the roadside and have already cried out to God for healing. St. Paul certainly did. “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you..'” (2 Cor 12:8-9) People are too quick to piously nod and think ‘grace will be the shield that will protect me from this regret.” Maybe, but that is not my experience. Grace is sufficient, but for what? Perhaps it is sufficient for us to turn and face the regret and persevere until we transform it. Transform it because we trust that since we have cried out, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” it is exactly what the Lord desires: “I do will it. Be made clean.”
Let our prayer not be to forget, but let our prayers be for Wisdom and Spiritual insight that we might persevere in God’s sufficient grace that we can lay our burden of regrets down, reduced to memory only, a guide to a holiness. Transformed in the love of God.