Updated: Apr 20, 2022
If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men. Romans 12:18 NASB
I’ve been pondering regrets about words I didn’t say – words of encouragement or apology or gratitude or forgiveness that I failed to communicate in a timely manner.
When my Daddy died, he was all there until the end. He understood everything I wanted to tell him. Even so, I had regrets. I wished I could ask him more questions about his life and thought and dreams and values. Why hadn’t I done more of that when he was able to think and speak well? In his last months, he no longer had the breath or strength to talk very much.
When my Momma died, she just winked out one evening, dropping into an unresponsive state that came to be called a coma. She continued in that state for almost a week and then breathed her last one Friday morning.
I sat by mom’s bedside every day during that final week. I must have heard “hearing is the last thing to go” at least 20 times from staff. Of course, we didn’t know for sure. Still, I spoke, sang, read, prayed. A couple of times, I thought I saw a tear under an eyelid, and rapid breathing, as when my sister from the East Coast spoke to Mom at the bedside for the first time in many months. But soon, there were no signs of response at all. When I knew that my opportunity to speak to her was over, I wondered what I had failed to ask or say, not in that last week, but over the decades of my adulthood.
The most grievous regrets stem from words of apology or forgiveness unsaid. Jesus takes forgiveness very seriously as the linkage in the Lord’s prayer makes clear: Not “God forgive me!” but “Forgive me in the same way as I forgive.” If I have some bitterness or lingering grumbling or complaining about someone, that’s what I can expect from God. Yikes! Can you imagine praying, “Lord forgive me in the same way that I grumble and complain about so-and-so”?
When I pray the Lord’s prayer, I sometimes interject a line after “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”: May we be rich in forgiveness. I know from my own experience that it’s easy to hold things against people, to recall a word or event with all the pain of the original insult or injury and never let it go. And it’s easy to never quite get around to an attempt at reconciliation. Then one day, you lose connection with the person, and experience regret.
“So far as it depends upon you,” says Paul, “be at peace with all men.” I can do no more than my own part, but that I must do, and not put it off until it’s too late.