I read a post via the online magazine for parents, Brain, Child, titled, “Regret is Poison.” For a Law/Gospel theologian/parent who isn’t afraid of the darkness of human existence, I was a moth to a flame. Regret? I’m listening. Regret as it pertains to guilt and parenting? Hellooo. I’ve been there. Tell me more. So I read the article.

The author of the article describes her regret and guilt for how she parented her children in vivid, palpable, imagery:

Now, as my three eldest children round the corner out of adolescence and into adulthood and my youngest is just a few months from becoming a teenager, my guilt over the childhood I gave them is sometimes like a bundle of cinderblocks I drag behind me on chains.

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The article details out how she did the best she could with four kids, one needing extra attention. Yet at the beginning of the article, she finds herself in the hospital with sciatic pain so severe it makes her (nearly) bedridden. A pain she believes she deserves because of the regret and shame she has over the choices she made in parenting her kids. Her past haunts her:

Sometimes, the guilt and regret bring me to my knees, begging for another chance, a rewind, a do-over.

The universe never grants do-overs, of course. It is a terrible truth of time that it moves ever forward, impervious to human sorrow. I can no more fix what I’ve broken than change the course of the ocean tides.

The most hopeful point of the article is that the author astutely confesses that she knows her regret is not only unhelpful but also is poison, to both her and her children. “However much I flagellate myself, the past is apathetic and unmoving.” Near the end, she writes:

My task now is to give up all hope of a better past because time is relentless, and while some deep and ugly part of me believes I deserve to suffer, I know that’s not true. In any case, whatever I do or don’t deserve, my kids still want me to show up for them, to be my best self in my relationships with them.

I found myself crying by the time I finished reading her story. I was crying because I related to what she was saying in the deepest part of my heart, mind, body, and soul.  My kids are 8, 6, and 19mos, and I know those cinderblocks. I’m all too familiar with those chains.  That regret? That guilt? It’s mine, too.

edward-frascino-whenever-mother-s-day-rolls-around-i-regret-having-eaten-my-young-new-yorker-cartoonAnd the funny (not so funny) thing is this: the author and I are normal parents, with both good days and bad days, with both cuddly experiences and abrasive ones, with both laughter and smiling and screaming and frowning.  We’re not—legally and categorically speaking—bad parents.  We’re merely human parents doing the best we can. Yet the overwhelming feeling of guilty and regret plague us. Plague me. I feel guilty day in and day out. I feel guilty because I fail my children daily. I feel guilty because I’m aware that I’m not treating these three human beings, whom God has placed in my hands to care for, perfectly.  The reality is that I don’t need a parenting manual to tell me I’m failing, because as soon as my voice rises and that anger over-comes me and I grit my teeth, I know I’m failing.  We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, first and foremost those who are quite literally bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh and this command I fail daily.  From my experience, motherhood (and parenthood at large) is naturally inclined toward guilt. I could search every town in every state looking for that one non-guilt-ridden mother, and I’d come up empty. Facade or not, we, parents, are guilt-ridden.

But I was also crying because my heart broke for her. Don’t end with that! I hollered at my computer screen. At that moment, I wanted to be her friend because the only difference between me and her is that there’s another word that is bigger than that word of regret and that word of guilt that weighs so heavy on our parenting consciences. I have that word that actually does deal with the past; that word that tells me my past is as separated from me as the east is from the west; that word that tells me that my future is so secure that I don’t have to worry about it because it can’t be plagued by my good or bad choices as a parent in the present. That word that frees me from the cinderblocks and chains that are guilt and regret.  And it’s this word I wanted to give her…

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…At the end of the day, the only thing–and I mean: The. Only. Thing.–that takes that guilt from me as a parent, that cleanses my blood stained hands, is the absolution proclaimed to me from the Gospel. Jesus Christ died for all of my failures as a parent, all of your failures as a mother or father, and he was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). By faith in Christ we are united to Christ and what is His (righteousness, not guilty, beloved) becomes ours (it is imputed to us) to such an extent that we are indistinguishable from it; just as, on the cross, what is ours (sin, guilt, unbelovedness) became His–Jesus became sin (it was imputed to Him) to such an extent that He was indistinguishable from it.  All of me—all of you—is now determined by faith in Christ and not by works of the law.

In the event of justification by faith in Christ, our guilty status is revoked for good and replaced with the status of not guilty. In His word of absolution, we are recreated not guilty, forgiven, beloved. In the event of justification, you and I stand as one who is not guilty, who is forgiven, and who is beloved.

Our guilt and regret are absolved–for real.