Regret. I was thinking about the word the other day. (It’s one of the things I do…thinking about words. Kind of my thing.) “Re-gret.” “Gret” is an ancient word for “weep” or “wail.” The prefix “re” is borrowed from Latin words. It can mean “do again and again” (like re-peat) or it can mean “go backward” (like re-treat.)
It strikes me that in the case of “re-gret,” both definitions of the prefix apply. To “re-gret” means to go backward to your previous wailings…and do them again. And again. And again. To call forth episodes from your past that caused you pain, normally of your own making, and to mourn them again. And again. And again.
There’s nothing wrong with mourning. It is a healthy part of dealing with loss. One of the worst aspects of COVID from a pastoral standpoint is that those with family members who died during this season were denied the opportunity to have a memorial service in a timely fashion in which they could bury and properly mourn their loved one.
If you have lost someone or something that is precious to you, it is important for you to be able to bury… and to “gret” over that loss. Likewise, if you have done things that shame you and pain God or others. Such behavior deserves “gret.”
But “re-gret?” To “re-gret” is, in a sense, to dig up that which has been buried and mourned…and to go through the grieving process all over again. To exhume past actions, even wrong or sinful or selfish or painful actions…throw ourselves upon the moldering corpse of those past actions…and wail. Again. Re-wail. Re-cry. Re-gret.
To put it differently, “gretting” is good. And healing. The first time. Re-gretting? Not so good. And the farther you get from the original source of your pain…and the more numerous the times you return to re-disturb that grave… the less healthy and helpful it is.
Especially if you are a Christian. Because the whole point of Jesus coming to us from his Father’s side in heaven was to set us free from the iron-grip that sin…and “re-gret” …have upon us. To offer us the incredible gift of genuine and permanent forgiveness. Paul put it this way in his second letter to the Corinthians. “…godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)
The image of baby Jesus being laid in a manger (a feed trough) not too very far from the sight and smell of the stuff that came out the OTHER end of those same animals reminds us that our God chose to enter into the very midst of our mess, our stink…our “grets”… so that he could save us from our “re-grets.”
I still have trouble believing that, even after all these years. I still find myself pulling out a spade and scratching away at the surface of the grave of a long-dead, long-past shame. But every Christmas reminds me that there is nothing about my past—or present—that is so dirty that Jesus isn’t willing and ready to move in and clean it up. Nothing.
Come join us this weekend and hear more about how Jesus helps us deal with our “re-grets.”
PS—By the way…the good news about Beyond These Walls just continues. I’ll be announcing the latest number in worship this weekend, so you don’t want to miss that. Please help us cross that finish line by year’s end so we can celebrate our final mortgage-burning on January 3. Go here to learn more and make a one-time gift to Beyond These Walls.