Jeremiah 31:31-34: “. . . and I will remember their sin no more.”
At the beginning he said, “I am a private person. Any crying I do, I will do in private.” This fellow was a hospice patient that I saw several years ago, but I remember his words. After he spoke them, I reassured him that that was okay; we all deal with the difficult parts of our lives in different ways. After I visited with him several different times, I began to notice a decline in his ability to get around, to do anything much without becoming short of breath.
One day we were talking on his porch, about his service in the military, about his life. I asked, “Is there anything you particularly regret?” There was a long pause. “Well, yes and no. Well . . . really no.” I put a confused look on my face and he continued. “There are things that I have done in my life that I am not very proud of, but who doesn’t have those things.” I had heard him talk before about his relationship with his wife, this was his second wife and it had sounded then, and even more so now, like the road to that second relationship was a bit bumpy. “In the end, no matter what I have done, it is done. It is over.”
“I am at peace with it,” he said.
“But I wouldn’t say that I ‘regret’ these things because they are the reason I am here right now. Good things came out of those things that I am not proud of.” He would not ever say exactly what those things were that he is not proud of, and maybe he doesn’t need to. It is enough to acknowledge the difficulties of the past. A regret is something that you may hash and rehash over and over.
Most of us on the other hand, myself included, seem to have the ability to conjure up a regret at a moments notice! If you allow yourself right now, you may be able to bring to mind that thing in your past that almost makes you red-faced with embarrassment just to think about it.
I remember my first “girlfriend” when I was just 10 years old. We both went to the same little church and sat together on the same pew. And people behind us would watch as I did my best Greg Brady impression, just inching my arm behind her and around her!
One day the preacher sat next to Laurie where I was gong to sit. As I walked in and saw where he was standing, I stood right in front of him. I’m not sure what the look on my face said, but he realized what had happened and scooted over so that I could sit by Laurie with her brown hair and sweet brown eyes. He later said at the beginning of his sermon, “Don’t demean this love by calling it puppy love; it is real to the puppy.” It can be embarrassing the things we do as children.
You see, we have the wonderful ability to conjure up things that we are embarrassed about, actions that we took that we shouldn’t have, times where we may have promised someone we would do something for them, but we didn’t. And I am not quite sure why we hold on to these things sometimes, but we do. We hold on tight, even when God tells us that God doesn’t hold it against us, we hold on to the failures and tragedies of our lives.
Some of the stories we have to tell are cute and maybe we don’t mind telling them . . . and then others that we don’t want anyone to know about. Some of the stories are not cute, but are sad, profoundly sad and tragic. There are stories about failure and fear, times when we should have known better, but didn’t act as if we did.
At the time that Jeremiah was speaking to the people in the scripture, it is likely that the date was somewhere after the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BC. Jerusalem was the last stand, so to speak. Now the entire nation of Israel had fallen to the Babylonians. The prophet Jeremiah states that it was because the law of God had not been followed. All of this tragedy was due to the ways in which the covenant with God had been broken. This was definitely a time of regret for the people of Israel. They were now in a time of exile, a time of being separated from the land that had been promised. This was a situation where the people were living day to day, hoping for food and water, in a place that was foreign to them.
And it is there that Jeremiah gives the people words of forgiveness from God, words of reconciliation, words that God is going to restore the people, that life is going to emerge out of death, that this particular situation is only temporary. Jeremiah dares to say to them, “God still loves you!” And that is the message of God for our lives too—that out of our own tragedies, there is new life. God forgives the things that we have done or not done, the things that we will talk about, and the things that we will not.
This is the God in which we have faith, a God who says, “I don’t even remember it.” This is the God who brings us home from the foreign places, that brings life out of the places in our own lives that smell of death.
And this is why in the end, we can look back and say, “I don’t have regrets. I am at peace with it.” No matter what we have done or has been done to us. We are asked let go and receive the grace that God gives us.