no ragrets.

If you saw the movie We’re the Millers you might remember the scene of the kid who has a big tattoo across this neck that says “No Ragrets” in capital letters. He said it was his credo, and when asked if he had any regrets, he replied, “Nope, not at all.” “Not even one?” the dad in the scene asked. His response: “Nope.” The dad asked again, “Like not even a single letter?” Him: “No, I can’t think of one. I love all the letters.”

The movie is off the charts naughty so don’t take this as a recommendation but at home we joke about that scene a lot, calling “regrets” ragrets instead. 

At the end of each year and the beginning of the next, a lot of us look back at the past and think about all the woulda’s, coulda’s, shoulda’s. We think about ways we wish we had done things differently. The “If onlys…” or “What if’s…” can sometimes take us over. I have some particular things that I circle back around on over and over and over (and over) again, wishing I could change. “Maybe if I had just…” is one of my most common thought loops, especially related to painful relationships, parenting, and some parts of my faith story. 

Regret can really be a time-waster, a sucker of souls, and robber of our thoughts. Left at just regret, we can get stuck.

One thing I am certain of (and there isn’t much) is that we can’t change the past. No matter how hard we will it, re-play it, re-think it, regret it, we cannot and will not ever be able to change the past. 

What we can do, however, is consider using what we’ve learned to participate in nurturing a different future. 

This is one of the reasons I love the 12 steps of recovery so deeply. The steps help us tell the truth, honor our reality and humanity, and learn from things we’ve done so we can live into a better future. 

Circular regret loops won’t get us anywhere new. 

It won’t make our kids be different. Heal a broken relationship. Bring back someone from the dead. Get us that job back. Erase a memory. Change another person. Make our faith magically reappear. 

Circular regret loops will just keep filling up space in our hearts and heads that could be filled with such better things.

A much healthier way–and one that I am really working on as I start this new year–is to own what’s happened in the past with as honest of eyes as possible and then add the most important clause I can to it: But I can learn _________ from it. 

Yep, I wish I had…Yep, I could have….Yep, I tried that and failed…but I can learn from it.

I can honor my humanity.

I can honor my ongoing story that’s always unfolding.

I can honor that I’m always learning.

I can honor that good can come from evil, light from darkness, beauty from ashes.  

I can honor that everything I’ve done is an opportunity to grow and that life is not meant to be just-the-way-I-thought-it-was-supposed-to-be. 

Some of you might be thinking: Nope, I have no regrets. Not any. Everything that happened to me was worth it and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’m a little jealous and maybe not quite as evolved. For me, that wouldn’t be honest. 

I do have regrets–things that I wish I woulda, coulda, shoulda–and I do better when I acknowledge what’s rolling around inside my head and heart instead of trying to will them away. 

My experience has been that when we tell the truth to ourselves, to others, we then ask the better question—What can I learn from the past so I can forge a different future? 

What can I practice differently moving forward?

What am I more clear on? 

What am I now unwilling to do that once came so easy?

What am I now willing to do that I once resisted?

What has the pain taught me about myself? God? Life? 

What can I put into practice that is healthier, wiser, less-codependent or controlling, no matter how small or big of a step? 

The older I get the more I realize how short life is. None of us know what’s around the next corner, what this new year will hold, what we might lose or find in the months ahead. There is very little that we have real control over (and usually our regrets center on what we wish we could have controlled better). I don’t want to use the little time I have left spinning around on regrets, getting nowhere.

It makes me think of an old scripture from the NIV tattooed in my brain a long time ago: 

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”

Isaiah 43:18-19

I also love this blessing that a friend from The Refuge shared today on our New Year’s Day hike:

The old year is worn and tired.

Time now to kiss it goodbye.

Take with you its wisdom—the authority and power of all you have learned.

Remember the past year with love, but let go of its despair.

Live the year that lies ahead with renewed energy and hope.

Be strong, have courage.

It is time now for something new. 

Anamcara Books

As an old year ends and a new one begins, my hope and heart for all of us who are caught in a circle of regret is that we’d honor them tenderly, be gentle with ourselves, “remember the past with love but let go its despair.”

New things await.

A way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.  

New ways of living, being. 

New ways of finding our way, together, carrying less ragrets.  

Happy 2019 from Colorado today.

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

One Comment

  • Kathy,

    This morning was the 4th day of my 21 day sabbatical. I set up a private email address (it is the one I will use on this post) and asked those who are praying for me to send me spiritual nourishment as they felt led.

    I was thrilled to find my board chair had copied this post and sent it to me. Not only did it bring me joy to see your name, your post spoke to me at a very deep level.

    I am taking a 21 day sabbatical to heal form 21 months of incredibly difficult experiences in both my personal and professional life. I took this sabbatical to rest, reflect and renew my energy which was completely drained.

    In preparation for my time of solitude, the spirit led me to Isa 43: 18-19. So when I read it in your post, it made me smile. I am spending 21 days in my cabin in the wilderness with a beautiful stream that I can see from my porch. Over the years I have cut a lot of trails through these woods. Each morning I look out and ask the forest which trail I should take. I am literally living “a way in the wilderness.” Everyday, I am blessed to see things I have never seen both in the physical and in the spiritual. I am also writing for the first time since this dark season began. I forgot how healing writing from the soul can be. It may never make it from my journal to my blog (poor neglected thing that it is) but simply giving myself time and permission to write for the sake of writing seems to be a huge step forward for me.

    Thank you for being so faithful in sharing truth through your writing. I just wanted you to know that it meant a lot to me today.


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