Two iconic singers of the twentieth century were born a fortnight apart in December 1915. One was American, the other French. Both had lives not only of fame and fortune, but also of notoriety and infamy.
They sang of their lives in two famous songs of the 1960’s. Each was an anthem, speaking of their life and struggles. Both songs became international favourites, sung by many other artists, but always associated with the original two singers. Both were songs dealing with regrets by denial.
One of course was the famous American, Frank Sinatra and his anthem “My Way”. His friend, Paul Anka, wrote the song intentionally for him. It captured the way Sinatra talked and the way in which he lived. It spoke of his regrets as “too few to mention” but then continues to struggle with the mistakes of his life – biting off more than he can chew, of tears and of losing. But as the theme of the song makes abundantly clear, the regrets are of no significance because the choices of life were his and his alone. He was not like one of those who kneel; he was a man who speaks his own mind, takes his own blows and does it his own way.
The other was the famous French singer Edith Piaf and her anthem “Non, je ne regrette rien” (“No, I regret nothing”). Hers was a more defiant song, rejecting in the strongest terms possible any notion of regret, while manifestly “protesting too much”. The opening verse declares the message.
“No, absolutely nothing
No, I regret nothing
Neither the good that’s been done to me,
Nor the bad: it is all the same!”
From there we are told that she doesn’t “give a damn about the past!” – her shames or her pleasures. And the reason for this abandonment of all her life is the commencement of a fresh start “with you”. The song doesn’t spell out who this “you” is, and some Christians hope it is God – but there is no indication it is anything more than yet another lover.
So how do we deal with the regrets of our life? Pride ourselves on our achievements and suppress mentioning the failures? Sweep up the past by forgetting all about it – don’t give it a damn – but sweep it away by rejecting the difference between good and evil? It’s one thing to forget about the evil done to us but what about the evil we have done to others. What about the suffering of a fallen world? Are we to have no regrets for them either?
It is an insensitive soul that has no regret for sorrows of the world or their part in contributing to them. But how can we face the pain we have caused others or the things of which we should rightly be ashamed? How do we deal with the sorrows of life that we have to endure?
We can, and should, own up to our errors, repent of our wrongdoing, apologise to those we have harmed and make reparation wherever possible. But even when we have done all this, there can still be a sense of deep regret about our actions. Often we cannot apologise or make any reparation, there is no possibility of putting things right – we just have to live with the consequences.
In the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is a major way through our dilemma of regret. For God, who is himself sorrowed by sinfulness, understands our failings. He has put things right for us. He has paid the penalty for all our sins. Paid a price, far in excess of anything we have ever done. Not the price of silver or gold but the price of the precious blood of his Son (1 Peter 1:18f). This payment does not pretend that our failings have not happened, nor pretend that they do not matter, nor remove them to the dustbin of forgotten history. This payment recognizes the seriousness of our sinfulness and deals with it in full.
As Christians become aware of our sins, we turn our grief into godly repentance and find forgiveness in the death of our Lord and Saviour. Having dealt with the past we press on to live the new life that Christ brings us. We are not left in grief without hope. We do not have to dwell in our mistakes or deal with them by denial (2 Corinthians 7:8-11, Philippians 3:12-14).
Christians can be free of regrets not only in our failures but also in life’s missed opportunities. We do not live as if blind fate has dealt us a bad hand. Nor are we simply the victims of other people’s sinfulness. We are the children of our loving Heavenly Father who is working his purposes out for our good, that we may be conformed to the image of his son and so bring glory to him (Romans 8;28-30). Life is not ultimately about us, but about Him, and our life finds its meaning, satisfaction, joy and love in being transformed into the likeness of our crucified and risen Lord. Whatever pain, sorrow or suffering we may experience – and there is much in this world to experience – is not worth comparing to the glory that awaits us (Romans 8:18). It is all part of his loving preparation for our share in his holiness, yielding “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:10f).
Christians neither wallow in their regrets nor repress their sorrows. We can face our failures of the past knowing that they have been dealt with. Unlike Edith Piaf, we do not negate the difference between good and bad in our attempt to leave the past behind. We also do not minimise the failures of the past, or carry the regret, as Frank Sinatra did. Christ has dealt with all our failures and God is ruling over all the events of our life to bring about his good purposes.