I recently read a meme on the internet that said, “Gonna ask my mom if that offer to slap me into next year is still on the table,” and all I could think was, Can I get an Amen? 2021, we are ready for you.
Three months ago, I thought for sure that by now we as a country would be emerging from the pandemic and entering a phase of rebuilding our economy. Instead, the pandemic is far from over and we are politically at each other’s throats. We are also at a moment in which we have come face to face with the legacy of our nation’s past sins that have caused deep pain and suffering for many Americans. The uncertainty of all that is out there has become a constant companion in my heart as I find myself combing through the news (I know, bad idea) looking for anything good—any sign of unity and healing on the horizon.
Yes, 2020 is turning out to be the most tumultuous year in my lifetime to this point, but it is not even close to the most tumultuous year in history. Men and women have endured personal and societal events far worse than the moments we are experiencing, and they have emerged from those long, dark events with their faith, joy, and belief in humanity stronger as a result.
Lately, I have been thinking about those men and women. I have been thinking about the early Christians who were so radically committed to the gospel during Roman rule that they looked like crazies as they cared for the undesirables of society and picked up babies who had been thrown out unwanted. There was something so attractive in them that, even in their martyrdom, people were drawn to Jesus and lives were changed.
I have been thinking about the men and women throughout history who were unjustly jailed under tyrannical regimes and never stopped telling others about Jesus. Their kindness and compassion brought hope to those around them and even converted their jailers.
I have even been thinking about the songs of hope that were sung by the slaves in the fields as they sorrowfully yet hopefully acknowledged that this world is not their home and that the joys of true life awaited them within the gates of Zion.
Within the stories of these past giants of our faith, we can find two types of prayer from which they drew their strength and kept their eyes on Jesus no matter what: lamentations and sacrifices of praise.
Lamentations are prayers to God that are born out of suffering and confusion. We see them throughout Scripture. They are a recognition that a life of faith is not always rainbows and butterflies, and that bad things happen which leave us confused and in doubt. While these prayers are cries of sorrow, they guard us against despair because they allow us to mourn the consequences of sin and express our doubts about God’s goodness with God. When we lament, we acknowledge that He sees our pain and will respond even if we don’t understand His ways. We then eventually find our way into hope just as the author writes in Lamentations 3 18-22:
So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
The beauty of these prayers is that they are honest, and honesty eventually leads to the other side of lamenting which is our sacrifice of praise.
In Hebrew 13:15, St. Paul tells us, “Through him [then] let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.” When we praise God, our praise is typically an outflow of joy as we behold the blessings that God has bestowed on us. It’s easy to praise God when we stand before the beauty of creation or consider the ways that He has blessed our lives and our families. But what happens when the blessings aren’t so easy to recognize? What about the times that lament feels more appropriate than praise as sorrow fills our souls? It is in these times that Scripture calls us to make our praise a sacrifice, to offer something to God that we may not feel like offering.
Praise in these moments is not an overflowing response to God’s goodness, but rather, an act of the will that acknowledges a reality that we may not see. King David made a sacrifice of praise when he wrote in Psalm 43:5, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Acknowledging that his soul is downcast, David commands himself to praise God anyway. It is in times like these that we can offer God our praise as a sacrifice when an outpouring of joy is simply not our present reality.
Dear friend, do you need to sit and lament with God these days? Do you need to offer God your praise as a sacrifice? So have many other faithful, heroic people of the past. It is this type of honest praying that got them through their trials. No matter how you are feeling, the Lord meets you where you are. He is not afraid of your honesty or your pain, whatever it may be. Wherever you are emotionally, it is not God’s will that you gloss over it with a smile, and it is not His will that you allow yourself to wallow in despair. Offer the Lord all the movements of your heart. Invite him into your struggles and in the midst of those struggles offer Him your praise. He is the one who fights for you.
“Terrible” was her response to the question, “How was your afternoon?”
“Oh, no, what happened?” I asked my friend, expecting to learn of an argument with her teenager or a run in with a crazy neighbor. But it wasn't either of these things. It wasn't even an actual thing that had happened. (Not in the present moment, at least.) She looked straight at me and sighed, “I just have so many regrets.”
The Hebrew word for regret actually means “to sigh”. Interesting, right?
Regret is defined as sorrow or remorse over something that has happened or that we have done. And we all have regrets. Some regrets are foolish choices, like the time in the seventh grade when I chose to cover my entire head in Sun-In, while laying out at the beach for eight hours straight drenched in baby oil. Other regrets are sin choices, and these can cause us the most harm as they tend to leave scars and consequences that last longer than a bad bleach job and third-degree burn.
I have learned a lot about regret in the past few years, and I have come away confident in this: if it doesn't propel me into a deeper faith and trust in the Lord, it is a completely useless emotion, that ironically, I will only regret at the hour of death; which, if you ask me, is THE most important hour of our lives. And that? That to me is the ultimate regret! Focusing on the sorrow my poor actions have brought me changes nothing. It only holds me face down in disappointment, reminding me of all the “what-ifs” and “if onlys”. It encourages me to look around at everyone else who apparently has what was supposed to be mine IF ONLY I had made better choices. Ultimately, and most tragically, it cripples me in my pursuit of glorifying God.
And we want that, don't we? We want lives that are lived for Jesus, that point to Jesus, that glorify Jesus. But if we are drowning in our regrets, is this even possible? How do we start seeing our wounds as the pathway to the heart of Christ, and not the obstacle? Exactly how do we accept our mistakes, and make peace with our past?
We need to get over ourselves. And we do this by repentance.
As I said earlier, regret focuses on the action that has brought us sorrow, but repentance focuses on the One we have offended. Saint Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 have helped open my eyes to just how selfish my own regret can be:
I rejoice now, not because you were saddened, but because you were saddened into repentance; for you were saddened in a godly way, so that you did not suffer loss in anything because of us. For godly sorrow produces a salutary repentance without regret, but worldly sorrow produces death.
There are a few ways I pray to not die. One, I don't want to be eaten by a shark. Ever. Two, I am terrified of my car driving off of a bridge and drowning. OR worse, not drowning, but once I escape through the car window, I get eaten by a shark. And three, “death by worldly sorrow”. So, to avoid the first two, I will stay out of the ocean and off of bridges. And to ensure I avoid number three, here are three things I am putting into practice:
1. Shut Satan Down.
Sisters, he is not called the Accuser for nothing. His tricks and schemes go back to the Garden of Eden. He tempts you, lying about the consequences, then accuses you when you consent. He delights in your shame, and wants you to believe the lie that you are defined by what you do. Own your identity. You are defined by God. Weekly Confession has been my saving grace. Take your regrets to the Sacrament of reconciliation, and leave them in the confessional. Then, on your way home, blare “I am a child of God” with your windows wide open so everyone knows exactly who you are.
2. Stop dwelling on the past.
Every time you go down that path, you take a step further away from trusting the Lord with your life and accepting the outcome. Your past is a huge and necessary piece of your story. Remember, He wastes nothing. When I focus more on what I should have done, rather than what God is calling me to do, I remember Saint Paul's words in Philippians 3:13-14: Brothers and sisters, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
3. Praise God.
Thank Him for allowing you to make mistakes because you are confident in His ability to pull the good out of every circumstance. If you do not believe that your situation could ever be used for good, now would be a good time to open up your Bible to Romans 8:28 and declare this over your life: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
When Judas felt the sharp pains of regret, he fell into self-destruction. This is not what God wants for us! Like Saints Peter and Paul, the purpose of our regret is that it leads us towards repentance. There is no need for you to undo your past. You have a God who lives to redeem it. Claim that truth and keep running towards the prize.
In Him who makes all things new,