Older and wiser … we have all heard that saying, and it is almost always true. We all learn from experience – it just takes a lot more experience for some of us than it does for others. It seems like such a shame that it is that way because there is so much pain involved. Someone said that “good judgement comes from experience, and most experience comes from bad judgment.” Life seems to be arranged in reverse – while we have our youth and our strength we lack the wisdom to spend it wisely and we squander the opportunities of our lifetime. By the time we begin to understand life and what is right and important we lack the strength and the opportunities to use that wisdom to accomplish the dreams of our youth. The result of this is that we have regrets. One of the wisest words of advice I ever heard was, “Live so that you have no regrets,” but that is much easier said than done. To accomplish that requires more wisdom than any man has, and therefore the only possibility of doing so is to be truly and completely led of the Spirit of God in our youth. The sad truth is that very few do – so regret is a very common experience.
As we get older we turn around and look at those coming along behind us and we grieve for them because we see them doing the same things that have brought us such regret. We know the pain that they will feel someday for the choices they are making and the things they are doing now and we want to stop them, but we cannot. They will not listen, just like we would not listen. We see young couples allowing things in their homes and in their relationship that are slow-acting poison and we know what the consequences will be down the road for them. We grieve as we watch them neglect very important things and people in their life for temporal and vain things, almost feeling in our own heart the pain that awaits them down the road. They are so sure they are making the right choices and doing the right things. Those who are a little older will all testify to the fact that the things you felt most justified and headstrong about in your youth are usually the things that become the source of your deepest regrets when you are older.
Nothing else can pain your soul like regret can. Other things hurt, but not in the same way. The despair over what has been lost, the guilt of damage done to others, the mourning over opportunities that have been lost forever, and the anguish of “what could have been” all add up to deep bitterness of soul for many and there is really no remedy for it. No one can imagine when they are young how it is going to feel someday to look back at certain moments of their life when they made decisions and choices that now have brought such dreadful consequences. How they will long to go back to that moment and have another chance, but it is impossible! And they will feel deep sorrow someday for the wasted years and weep for the loss, the failures, and the broken things in their life. How much of it could be avoided if only you could understand while you are young how dearly you are going to pay for bad choices, bad behavior, and bad decisions? How sad that so few will listen to wise and godly counsel! How grievous it is to watch them keep sowing the seeds of their own regrets while they are so sure they are doing right!
It is happy news indeed to know that there is one area in life where you can be assured there will be no regrets. All our endeavors, dreams, and relationships are vulnerable to failure because there are so many traps and pitfalls in life’s journey. However, there is One who will never fail us and what we give to Him we will never regret. No one has ever grown old and bitter with regret because of their sacrifice and service for Jesus. Those who lose their life for his sake actually find their life. They do not mourn over what has been lost, but rejoice in the new life they have found. The only place here where there is room for regret is that we only wish we had given our all to Him sooner. The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness. (Prov 16:31) That is quite a contrast to the bitter end of those who go headstrong in their own way in their youth and live their old age in the bitterness of regret.
So rather than reasoning with young people and constantly trying to fix the messes in their lives by counseling them and giving them step-by-step instructions we should be pointing them to Christ and the Word of God. That is the foundation and without that all our counseling is worth nothing. Those with the least regrets are those who have given Jesus everything and ordered their lives according to Word of God. If we really want to help someone we must point them in this direction! Example is the strongest influence! Words alone are powerful, but words connected with real live images are more powerful. An example of trusting God, being truly led by His Spirit, and giving Him first place in everything in our lives leaves an image and a message stamped upon a soul that is never forgotten, and is the best hope they have of avoiding the bitter pain of regret. They will certainly forget all the words in our lectures to them while they are young, but they will not forget the example we set with our own life and walk with God. The only way to live so that you have no regrets is to give your life to God completely and truly let Him direct your steps.
(Prov 3:5-6) Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.