(Warning: you probably don’t want to read this if you often find yourself disagreeing with people who don’t consider scripture a legitimate source reference)
I don’t know when it happened, but when I was very young I became determined that no matter what I did, good or bad, or what the results might be, I would never regret a single choice I made. The idea of regret seemed a lot like a scapegoat–like guilt.
The logic is something like this: “If you feel bad enough, or regret it enough, it will earn you (some kind of) forgiveness.” There are two things wrong with that statement: 1) It’s not true, remorse doesn’t earn forgiveness, but 2) Who says we need to be forgiven?
The idea of requiring forgiveness is something that is deeply embedded in our own lacking sense of self-worth and -empowerment, and a long-standing belief that whatever divinity exists is outside of ourselves, and therefore Greater and Better than us. But what is divinity besides unconditional love? If God really hangs out judging us 24/7, he’s not much better than the people who bullied you in high school because you didn’t have the right brand logo on your t-shirt.
A human’s life is inherently a selfish, self-centered, self-obsessed existence. We cannot be or know other than ourselves, and even the most selfless person sifts all decisions and actions and musings through the filter of their own mind and identity, even in countries less individualistic than the US. It’s an inescapable thing, and it’s a thing that makes us all forever seperate, forever alone. < /emo-ness>
But the good news from this is that we always do what is best for ourselves, even when we think we’re being self-sacrificing. That might seem counter-intuitive, but think about it: why on earth would anyone sacrifice him or herself if she gained absolutely nothing from it? (I think there was an episode of Friends about this) I can selflessly work from dawn till dusk for the betterment of my family, my friends, my world, but ultimately my motivation is not the betterment of another, but of myself, because I am made happy by some convoluted idea that my actions are more meaningful than their output because I’m demonstrating devotion to others, or God, or a reward in my afterlife/reincarnation. (In theory. I’m not actually much of a martyr. I like to give, but by that I mean I like to buy people gifts, or bake them things, or throw parties for them, or give my books away for free… I’m not one for toiling, though)
THE POINT BEING we cannot be selfless. Everything, everything we do, we do because we believe we will be happier at some point for having done so. And everything we want, we want because we believe having it will make us happy.
At the root of every action is the desire for happiness. Nothing wrong with that. Even if you think your desire is to hurt another, it is only because you think that hurting them will make you happy (and I have news for you, it won’t, and even serial killers and psychopaths who claim it does are only experiencing a temporary relief of their consistent feeling of helplessness by taking an action that puts them in a vague position of power, but that is not happiness).
So why regret? Why do we ever think we require forgiveness, from others or ourselves?
Here’s the thing about life: It’s one-way. We can look back, but we can’t go back. Would you–could you have chosen differently? Because you obviously made the choice that you thought was best, even if it was a “weak” moment. You yelled at your kids because you wanted to get your point across, not because you’re a terrible father. You had one too many drinks probably because you were feeling good and wanted to feel even better. You ate that chocolate bar because you thought the sensory satisfaction would be a happiness worth sabotaging your diet for. You slept with someone because it seemed right in the moment, it made you feel free, and wanted.
There’s nothing wrong with any of those decisions. There are a lot of things attached to those decisions, and a lot of things we can learn from making them, or seeing other people make them. But to regret them? So you woke up with a hangover, or your kids were mad, or you didn’t lose weight, or you feel like a slut (or not, everyone is different–just use protection!). Realizing you might have made a “poor” decision is part of the learning process of life, and doesn’t mean we have to mentally (or physically) flog ourselves in reparation for “mistakes,” or “sins,” or “weaknesses.” And why not? Because guilt and punishment doesn’t change or solve anything. You might have murdered someone, but no amount of guilt or regret will change that fact, and forgiveness from yourself or others certainly does not.
But beyond all of the psychology of motivation, id vs. ego, etc., is this: if there is a god? It is unconditional love. And unconditional love means that forgiveness is inherent, so inherent that it will never judge us in the fist place.
Life is not about feeling terrible about the past, but about loving now, and finding ways to make now better. And by focusing our energy in that way, we pave a path for a better future.
(The irony of realizing all of this? It makes it that much easier to forgive everyone.)