The Saddest Words

Hi, y’all, and welcome to the final day (saving the best for last and all that!) if the If Only Blog Tour.  In my capacity as an Off The Shelf Blogger for Beacon Hill Press, I’ve been given the opportunity to read If Only: Letting Go of Regret by Michelle Van Loon.  (My advance copy was my only compensation, and, as always, my opinion is my own.)  This time, instead of reviewing the book, I was asked to write a personal reflection on regret.
Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been.”
~ John Greenleaf Whittier
In Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Charles Wallace Murry is given the responsibility, with the help of  a time traveling unicorn, of saving the world from imminent nuclear destruction by finding and changing the right “Might Have Been” in the past.  Charles succeeds, and the world is saved.  The rest of us aren’t so lucky.
Because all of our lives are littered with “might have beens.”  Whether for good or ill, every choice made excludes all the other possible choices.  Everything we do–or leave undone–has repercussions.  In If Only, Michelle Van Loon writes of how regrets can divide our hearts, trap us in the past, and damage our relationships with God and with one another.
Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . . That’s the first thing that comes into my mind when I try to reflect on my personal experience with regret, but I’m not sure whether it’s true or just a comforting story I’m telling myself.  Van Loon writes of people who have submerged their regrets so deeply that they don’t even realize the damage these unresolved feelings are causing in their current lives.
Most of the time I tell myself that there is no point in regret, because I can’t really know what would have happened if I had done things differently.  Like those well-meaning time travelers in just about every book or movie you’ve ever seen on the topic, what if I had made things worse by doing (or not doing) whatever it was?  Is wishing I could go back and change things not a rejection of everything good that has happened since?
I think about our house burning down.  If only I had insisted on having a professional deal with the electrical box situation instead of the handyman employed by our landlord (not that it ever occurred to me at the time).  Then the box wouldn’t have exploded and the house wouldn’t have burned down and I would still have all my things.  But what about the lessons and the love and the new home and new friends we have now?  And who’s to say that if we had stayed in that house, we might not have died in a car crash on the way home one night?  This is why it’s a good thing that we are not God and that time travel remains the stuff of science fiction.
If only I hadn’t wasted so much time and energy on sorting and storing all the things that I had.  If only I hadn’t gotten so upset over various things getting broken or ruined by floods in the basement or careless children.  But I couldn’t have known what was going to happen–all I can do is try to be better going forward.  Which is definitely one of Van Loon’s points–that our regrets can be a tool for us now if we acknowledge them and own them instead of burying them.  And her book supplies tools to do that, with discussion/reflection questions, scripture, and prayer.
Where she really got me was when she started talking about her experience as a parent of grown children: “My empty nest echoed with the sound of regret.”  My nest is still quite full (will any of them EVER leave?), [edit: two are gone now, one quite far away.] but three of my babies are legal adults.  Without implying that there is anything seriously wrong with any of them–don’t get me wrong!–of course they have their struggles and I cannot help but think there were things I should have done differently.  I can’t help but remember how far short I have fallen–and continue to fall–of the perfect mother I just knew I was going to be.  I regret deeply–I can’t tell you how much–that I didn’t enjoy them enough when they were little.  I never heard that saying “The days are long but the years are short” until my kids were already big.  I wish I had.  It won’t do any good for me to tell those of you who still have little kids that they will be grown up before you know it but it is true.
So I guess that is a pretty typical regret to have with kids who are almost but not quite launched, but it’s the one I am really struggling with right now, and I hope that going through some of the reflections in If Only will help me.
Would you like to know more about Michelle Van Loon?  Her website is here.
For more on If Only, please visit the other stops on the Blog Tour: Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4  Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10 Day 11 Day 12 Day 13 Day 14 Day 15  

0 thoughts on “The Saddest Words

  1. Helga

    Leslie, if your house hadn’t burnt down, I would have never known you! I know how weird this sounds! Happy 4th of July!

  2. Thank you for your wise and sobering reflections on the topic, Leslie. It takes a good bit of courage to face those if only’s. I think those “emptying nest” years bring lots of those regrets to the surface for many of us.
    So sorry about the loss of your home – what a traumatic event this must have been for you and your family.
    P.S. – You don’t need to include me in your drawing. I just wanted to stop by and thank you!

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  5. Christina

    I like this post, Leslie. I have almost daily regrets about losing patience with my children or not knowing how to be gentler, softer with them when things are rough. I also regret that it took me so long in life to know what I really want, so long that it seems to late to get it. But while I can probably do something about how I handle the rough times with the kids, there was no way I could have known what I wanted in life sooner than I did. That just came with the experience time gives. So it seems that some of my regrets are avoidable, others not so…

    1. Thanks, Christina. Well, at least you can be grateful that you do know what you want . . . so many people flounder around forever without really knowing that! And I am so impatient with my kids, so I really get that.

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  8. Elizabeth

    Regret is a tough one to deal with, especially when the regrets are not just our own. But I share your thoughts on what we’ve gained and learned. I may have to check out this book!

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  11. tara1998

    My regret is letting my sweet dog, Samantha, out if my car while we were on a road trip & she ran over to see some cows in a field on Hwy 101 in Ca & I never could find her again. This was April 24, 1996 & I searched for a week, no one would help, it was hot, I was exhausted & there was nothing out there for 20 miles but ranches & oil fields. People say mountain lions got her. It was close to Angeles Nat. Forest. She was 12.5 & in great health, was my baby & I brought her into the world on October 23, 1983. Regrets yes, I have a few. It changed my whole life. I think of her everyday & will never forgive myself. Pray for me. This was all before the Internet was in full force, no Facebook. I put her story & picture in local paper but nothing. So sad 😢.
    I cried straight everyday for 30 days & lost my job & some friends too who did not understand. My family could not help as they were in Tn. All alone.

  12. Terry

    I don’t have tons of “if onlys,” but the ones I do have are pretty big. Forgiving one’s self can be harder than forgiving others.

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