Tuesday, May 15, 2007


And at the end of your tether, sing along with this well-known hymn:





My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
We are a success... even though we may seem to be failures.
What is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
Everyone has sinned, and is far away from God's presence... but God has shown how much he loves us - it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us. Of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant.
He... appeared in human likeness. He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death - his death on the cross. For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you... for I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you'.
So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.

James 1:2-4 NRSV; 2 Corinthians 13:7; GNB Luke 16:15 NRSV; Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8 GNB; Philippians 2:7-8 GNB; 1 John 4:18 NRSV; Psalm 34:4 NRSV; Isaiah 41:10, 13 NRSV; Galatians 6:9 GNB

'We regret we are unable to give you the weather. We rely on weather reports from the airport, which is closed because of the weather. Whether we are able to give you the weather tomorrow depends on the weather.' That, says Stephen Pile in The Book of Heroic Failures is an accurate transcript of a news bulletin in a Middle Eastern country. Pile's book is a salute to spectacular human failure. 'Success', he writes, 'is overrated. Everyone craves it despite daily proof that humans' true genius lies in quite the opposite direction. Incompetence is what we are good at...'

Abraham Lincoln experienced failure after failure - for twenty-eight years! In 1833 his business failed. In 1836 he had a nervous breakdown. He failed to be elected as speaker in 1838. He lost re-nomination to Congress in 1848, and was rejected for Land Officer in 1849. But he 'hung in there'. In 1854 he was defeated for the Senate. Two years later he lost the nomination for Vice-President, and was again defeated in the Senate elections of 1858. But he was elected President in 1860, and went on to become America's best-known leader ever. Failure is inevitable in our broken world. While we should not seek failure or despise success, a Christian is called to be faithful, not necessarily successful. Jesus was tempted to be a 'successful' Messiah, but chose rather to be a faithful and obedient servant. Those who cheered him on Palm Sunday had to learn he was not on his way to a throne in Jerusalem, but to a cross on Golgotha. (But the cross was the greatest victory in human history). And he promised his followers three things: constant trouble and constant joy (because of his constant presence). We moderns have been seduced into thinking that, properly-organized, life can be trouble-free. Psychotherapist M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled) says our society doesn't believe life should be difficult, or that solving problems gives life meaning. Neurosis, Carl Jung used to say, is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. It is difficult for most people to survive either success or failure. We (Western) humans have an inordinate need to demonstrate our worth by performance. We strive to be luminaries, rather than letting our light shine. We are what we do and achieve. And we have an insatiable appetite for approval: much of the way we behave is a veiled means of soliciting compliments. Many spend all their waking hours willing themselves to succeed or fearing failure. (Our dreams continue these themes).

I don't know who said 'It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game', but I reckon most modern sporting clubs wouldn't want that fellow in their team. We love winners. Remember Jack Dempsey, the 'Manassa Mauler'? He was the world heavyweight boxing champion, and he came up with the best definition of a champion I have heard: 'A champion is a guy who gets up when he can't'. Falling isn't failing, but staying down is... We are as good as our next performance, not our last one. In their analysis of the American ethos Robert Bellah and his colleagues wrote, 'The American dream is often a very private dream of being the star, the uniquely successful and admirable one, the one who stands out from the crowd of ordinary folks.' [Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life]. Jesus didn't buy into such a dubious notion, and doesn't invite us to either. You see, success and/or failure may produce spiritual health - or they may not. As Kipling said, they're both imposters. Indeed, in reality what is perceived as failure is often success, and vice-versa. Our world is like a shop after young people on Haloween night got in and changed all the price-tags around. The price and value of winning or losing don't necessarily relate. Winning isn't everything; we also need the faith to face failure. 'When I am weak, then I am strong', Paul wrote. 'I can do all things (even fail!) through Christ who strengthens me. Sometimes we give the impression we've 'got it all together'; or 'victorious Christian life' preachers leave us struggling in confusion and despair. The old hymn which says 'Standing on the promises I cannot fail' is dubious theology at best. The Puritans preached that 'success' results from God's blessing, or God's testing, or God's abandonment and judgment, or the devil's seduction. Only one in four was God's prospering. Here are some bits of anonymous wisdom from my files:

* 'You may not be what you think you are, but what you think, you are!' (Sports stars talk about 'imaging').
*'I don't know the secret of success, but I do know the secret of failure - try to please everybody'.
*'Success is not permanent. The same is also true of failure'.
*'The biggest reward for a thing well done is to have done it'.
*'Mistakes are to life what shadows are to light'.

Success is never really satisfying: God hasn't made us that way. We're not to settle down here permanently - not even on the top of a mountain. (Looking down on others isn't helpful spiritually; and you expend a lot of negative energy excluding others from the peak). The reward or prize is offered in the next life, said Jesus and Paul: in this, our badge of office is a towel, serving others rather than dominating them. Satisfaction is 'serendipitous' - it's in the journeying, rather than the arriving. The saints have a well-developed 'theology of gratitude': expect nothing, they say, and you won't be disappointed. So be careful of that imposter 'success'. You may succeed - but not in God's way. Your calling is to do his will, and if he grants you success, fine. If not, fine! God's will is that you shall not need to be successful to be happy. If you are elated too much by success or depressed too much by failure, you still have some maturing to do! And think about this: most Western pastors lead churches that are not growing numerically. Many feel they are failures. But they may be more 'successful' in God's eyes than others whose churches are growing, but whose growth is simply catering to their own egos. The vision of the church in James, Peter and the Revelation is of a suffering, patient, scattered people who are encouraged to face the hostility of the world without losing hope. In the church of the crucified Lord, one's esteem should not be a function of 'better' or 'smarter' or 'bigger'. The only valid comparison is not between me and others, but between my actual and potential: I should strive to do my best. 'Effectiveness' - the appropriate embodiment of faithfulness in given human contexts - is a better idea.

How can we sort out our motives here and learn to make weakness a source of creativity? First, ask honestly in your prayer, 'What is my desire? What do I think I need in addition to the Lord to be "fulfilled"? Why do I need those things?' Then, having written down the answers to these questions, talk them over with a trusted friend or spiritual director. When things don't work out the way you had hoped, don't berate yourself ('I'm a failure'). Rather analyse the situation, and believe it is possible to try your best and still have some factors beyond your control. Don't blame others (particularly parents or spouse) for failure: be mature enough to take responsibility for yourself. Don't nurture resentment or be too cynical: they are prime causes of stress, according to the experts.

Above all, as Winston Churchill told a boys' school assembly, 'Never, ever, ever, ever give up!' Didn't Edison experience 14,000 'failures' before he perfected the first light bulb? Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. It was his life-work, the fulfilment of a consuming ambition. He was once asked how he'd feel if the Pope suppressed the Society. 'A quarter of an hour of prayer', he replied, 'and I would think no more of it'. He'd cultivated a sublime indifference to temporal success or failure. The one thing that mattered was that Christ was honoured.


'Two dangers threaten the survival of Christendom. The one is mediocrity; the other is success.... Mediocrity... has come to characterize the behaviour of most people in most institutions. They live our their Christian commitment in a mediocre fashion within the context of churches that have mediocre programs... Holiness is excellence, so there is no excuse for mediocrity. Success is worldly, so there is no excuse for Christians pursuing it'.

Tony Campolo, in the Forward to Christian Excellence: Alternative to Success, by Jon Johnston.

A person may be famous but a failure. Fame has little to do with a person's emotions, intimate relationships, or qualities as a human being. To be publicly successful someone must be superior in some way - in beauty, brains, or brawn... Popularity, fame, influence, political power, rare creativity, enormous wealth - these mark the successful person. [But] God's standards of success differ from the world's. The Bible turns values topsy-turvy... praises the failure that is success and denounces the success that is failure.

Vernon C. Grounds, 'Faith to Face Failure, Or What's So Great About Success?', Christianity Today, December 9, 1977, pp. 12,13.

Fear of failure may be the strongest factor in driving people to violate their conscience and compromise their standards. Failure is a fact of life. It is not a matter of if we fail, but when we fail. And no failure is pleasant. Failure is hard, humbling, and costly. But failure is not final; rather it is part of a delicate process of growth and development in our lives... Remember that God is sovereign. When you fail, you may experience the temptation to doubt God's goodness. But God in his sovereignty always acts on our behalf. Even though you can see nothing in a failure that is your fault, be assured that God is at work in your life to deepen your character and to lead you in his perfect will.

Jerry White, Honesty, Morality & Conscience.

God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial he makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.

C.S.Lewis, A Grief Observed.

One of the most painful aspects of failure is the feeling that I have failed to live up to my own expectations of myself. We have upset other people and disappointed God; these aspects we have to deal with in an objective way. But the subjective inner struggle to come to terms with the sort of people we really are must be faced with the aid of courageous questioning. Have I set myself realistic goals...? Am I a perfectionist, trying to justify myself by achievement...? Where have I learned my ideas of success and failure...?

Ann Fander, 'How to Deal with Failure'.

After the miracles in Galilee there comes the solitude of the cross. After the proof of God by success, there comes the proof of God in failure; a paradoxical proof, but how much greater, in fact, and more absolute, despite its apparently relative character.

Paul Tournier, The Person Reborn

...If you have ever been sickened by the crumbling of some enterprise into which you had put all your best effort and love of your heart, you are caught up into the fellowship of Christ's death and resurrection... God has dealt with our failure by himself becoming a failure in Jesus Christ and so healing it from inside.

Maria Boulding, Gateway to Hope

No failure need ever be final. No fall need end in tragedy. The only disaster that is without remedy is to quit trying. The difference between the one who has gone down in defeat and the other who has triumphed is not that one sometimes failed while the other never did. The real difference is that one accepted failure as final, [believed] there was no hope, while the other dared to start again. Simon Peter's life might haved ended as tragically as that of Judas had he not dared to start anew. The life of Judas might have ended triumphantly. Indeed, he might have been the most amazing miracle of the New Testament had he only dared to make a new start. The most painful wound this traitor inflicted upon his Lord was not his kiss of betrayal but his failure to trust him enough to make a new start.

Clovis Chappell, If I Were Young.

Again and again, I find that God brings me out of these pits [of discouragement]... Alone and exhausted with my self-absorption, I may sit and cry and admit that I am lost, bogged down, and wrapped up in myself. I can truly see that 'there is no health in me'. As I confess these conditions, I can often look back and realize that only in God have I known hope in my own past. Then, at last, I give up. I give up my self-diagnosis and my frantic efforts to avoid failure, either physically, psychologically, or materially. And I give up my dreams for success. I given them to him, finally being willing to have them fulfilled or not. And strangely, this is like dying, to give up these dreams of success in any venture, since my whole destiny seems to be riding on them. Then, since up I have given up the 'big' plans for my life... I am interested only in sanity for today. Paradoxically, it is at this point that I am ready to live again.

Keith Miller & Bruce Larson, The Edge of Adventure: An Experiment in Faith

If we think we are failing because of some fault in ourselves, we may have to work harder on our personal development. This is a situation in which we will probably need the assistance of a skilled spiritual director or therapist. It is almost impossible to see ourselves without talking with another person trained in matters of psychology and of the spirit, and it is almost impossible to walk the spiritual path alone. At some point everyone needs a companion on the way, someone with whom we can share openly and honestly, whom we can trust to hold our confidences, and who we know will not judge us, no matter what dark corners of our personalities we reveal.

John Sanford, Ministry Burnout.

Failures... more readily than successes, teach us to embrace the whole of our humanity and own ourselves without pretense, before God. Successes may lead us to believe that of course God must accept us now, look how he is blessing us! Failure tells us that God has accepted me anyway for he sent Jesus to taste my failure at Calvary. I am acceptable to God on no other basis than that he has demonstrated his acceptance of me already. And this cross reminds us of the balance we must maintain on the spiritual journey; it is rather like a see-saw. If we would go up and gain the heights in life, then at the same time there is the downward plunge into the dust of failure. Both the heights and the depths together, give us the balance we need for growth.

Russ Parker, Failure.

God sees 'success' and 'failure' more in terms of relationships than of achievements, more in 'being' than in 'doing'... Noah got drunk, Moses got angry and Gideon became scared. Peter could be inconsistent, Paul inconsiderate; Thomas doubted, Martha pouted. But God continued to love them and turned their failures into victories... The good news of the Christian faith is that failure need never be final.

Ron Elbourne, 'Parson's Pitch'

Success isn't the absence of failure. It is having the determination to never quit because 'quitters never win and winners never quit'. Almost every person who has achieved anything worthwhile with his or her life has not only experienced failure, but experienced it many times... God wants you to achieve something worthwhile - not necessarily spectacular... If you feel you have failed, be encouraged. Now's the time to give God a chance. 'He'll mend even a broken heart if you'll give him all the pieces.' For those who believe in God, failure is never forever.

'Failure: Never Forever', ACTS International.

I asked for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of others,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life,
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had hoped for - but everything I had hoped for.
Almost, despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am... most richly blessed.

Unknown Confederate Soldier

That's all very well, Lord, but the experience of failure is very unpleasant. It hurts! Bankruptcies, marriage break-ups, getting fired from one's job, teenagers going berserk, war in the Middle East, ethnic or tribal strife in various parts of the world - they're constant reminders of human failure. In my own life Lord, I have not lived up to my earlier ideals. I have let you, others and myself down. Sure, it's the 'human condition' - all have sinned, all fail, all make mistakes. So I need reminding today that most of your great people in the Bible failed, but came back stronger and more useful afterwards: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, Jonah, Peter, John Mark, Paul... Probably that's because their egos got in the way too, and the process of risking and failing and being humbled is needed before we can be of much use to you or others. Unless I have failed, I will never succeed. What looks like failure in a success-mad world may prove to be successful in the longer run. So forgive me, Lord, if ever I say 'I am a failure' rather than 'I have failed'. So, Lord, just as you did not cast away your people who failed in the past, but forgave them, restored them, and recommissioned them, so I, now, too, accept your grace. Remind me anew that while failure is always possible, failure is not final. Thank you Lord, Amen.

Benediction. In the sunshine and in the shadows, through the calm and the stormy days, when life is good and when it's hard, when things go well and when they fall apart, may you know deep within your spirit that God is still smiling, and all will be well. Amen




Sunday, May 13, 2007


Watch this space!


Watch this space - for more cute animals and, also, hopefully, for some timeless wisdom!


The Lord says, 'Forget about what has happenend before, do not think about the past, instead look at the new thing I am going to do.' Isaiah 43:18-19

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

Philippians 3: 7-16, 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11, Romans 8: 28


The year I turned eighteen I eloped with a man from another county.[1]

Later, I gave birth to three daughters. My husband was a gambler and a drunkard and boozed until he was completely legless every day. When he lost money he'd come home and beat up his wife and children. One of those awful beatings three years ago made me determined to leave him, and that's how I started my life as a migrant worker.

I don't have much education and I couldn't find any decent job. I couldn't, and I didn't want to do those jobs where you had to sell body and soul, so all I could do was go to a construction site and cook for the workers there. Those construction workers were also migrants, living by selling their physical labour. The only thing different was that they were men. Each day I was responsible for preparing three meals for over a hundred people. The hard work can easily be imagined, but I wasn't really afraid of hard work. What I was afraid of was lack of respect from those men. Among them, some used filthy, disgusting language with me, some made passes at me, and some made a big show of urinating in front of me. During the day it wasn't so bad, but every night, lying down in the workshed, with the wind coming in from all sides, I never dared to take off my clothes, really afraid those men would do something to me.

Lying on the plank bed, I couldn't sleep, thinking about my family. I didn't want to return, but my three daughters were always on my mind. Would her dad be able to pay the school fees for the oldest girl? Had the second girl recovered from her epilepsy? And was the third one still wetting her bed?... Every night I would think about them for a long time before I went to sleep, and as soon as the sky grew light, I had to get up and prepare the breakfast. My wage was 150 yuan[2] per month, but for someone like me who had come out to work for the first time, it was quite a large sum. Four months went by and apart from buying three packets of sanitary napkins and one bag of washing powder, which cost me eight yuan, I kept the remaining 592 yuan in my pocket next to my skin. I hoped to use the money to pay for my older daughter's school fees and the second daughter's medicine...

After four months of life as a migrant worker, I gradually got used to the environment and came to understand those men. Even though they were crude people they were not bad. Their dirty talk was an outlet for their pent up feelings. It wasn't easy for them to leave home and come out to work either. So I was no longer on my guard. Occasionally I would answer back when they talked dirty. Not only did they not get angry, it would make them happy. Perhaps it was because there were too few women in their lives. I often helped them to mend and wash their clothes. And they used their spare time to help me fetch the water and wash the vegetables. Eventually I won their respect through my own efforts. Once, someone found me a job painting. The pay was better than cooking, but those workers would not let me go, no matter what. They said they only wanted to eat the food I cooked. If the money was not enough, they would be willing to make it up by each taking a bit out of their pay. So I stayed working on the construction site.

In the blink of an eye it was winter and the construction site stopped work. I decided to go home. I thought that after half a year of absence my husband would have changed, but I was wrong. When I got home, carrying my cherished money that I'd earned with blood and sweat, the first thing my husband said was: 'You shameless thing, how dare you come back. No old bags who go out to work ever come home intact. I'd rather be a bachelor than a cuckold. Even if we were dying of poverty, I wouldn't take the dirty money you earned. Get out!' I said to him: 'My money is clean,' but he wouldn't listen and pushed me out the door. I shook all over and it wasn't the wind from the mountains that made me shiver. I secretly gave the money to my oldest daughter who chased after me in tears, and once more took the road away from home. It was different from the last time. Having experienced life as a migrant worker before, I was no longer ignorant about the outside world, my steps were no longer as hesitant, and I believed at heart: no matter what happened, I would go on living, living without complaint, regret or shame.

I am a cloud, destined to float around in this life. I do not know where the wind will blow me next.

[1] Pang Hui's story was originally published in NongjianŸ Baishitong [Rural Women Knowing All], 8, (1999): 28-29, translated by Tamara Jacka and Song Xianlin. [2] One yuan = US$0.1.


'The Exploding Dictionary' on the Web says it's

'Pain of mind on account of something done or experienced in the past, with a wish that it had been different; a looking back with dissatisfaction or with longing; grief; sorrow; especially, a mourning on account of the loss of some joy, advantage, or satisfaction.'

Syn: Grief; concern; sorrow; lamentation; repentance; penitence; self-condemnation.

Usage: {Regret}, {Remorse}, {Contrition}, {Repentance}. Regret does not carry with it the energy of remorse, the sacredness of contrition, or the practical character of repentance. We even apply the term regret to circumstances over which we have had no control, as the absence of friends or their loss. When connected with ourselves, it relates rather to unwise acts than to wrong or sinful ones. --C. J. Smith.

Regret is an interesting feeling or state of mind. Some philosophers say feeling regret is irrational, or even immoral. But surely in some situations regret is appropriate. If we have done something wrong, or stupid, 'regret' is our conscience or mind telling us that we shouldn't do it again!

In general regrets may result from

# Guilt: bad things we've done, or good things we failed to do

# Shame: bad feelings about who we are

(Two big topics: we'll deal with these in one or two separate articles).

# Failure: despair over mistakes we made; or disappointment that we have not lived a life that anywhere near matched our earlier dreams.

The Christian Gospel has an antidote for guilt - faith and forgiveness; and for shame - love and grace; and for failure and despair - hope.


Life wasn't meant to be easy... yes, yes, yes... but when you get to be in your 50s, 60s, 70s, (sometimes earlier than your 50s) one of the recurring disappointments haunting us is all about 'what could have been'... The self-talk begins with words 'If only... if only... if only...'

Or 'If I'd had more sense/luck/whatever, I should have...'

The Regretter's lingo is littered with 'would haves/should haves/could haves.' It's all right for John Powell to say 'Don't should on yourself', or for St. Paul to talk about 'forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on...' (Philippians 3: 13-14) but most of us can't forget stupid decisions we made in the past - or stupid things we said, or stupid ways we reacted to the actions and words of others - and these mistakes have altered our destinies.

We can't undo what has happened (or can we???) but those things haunt us nevertheless...

Recently my wife Jan and I took a leisurely four-month tour around Australia. We loved the desert-areas of our wide brown land. But it came as a reminder to me that in deserts throughout time and space not only is God there, but the devil is there too. All the 'Desert fathers and mothers' encountered demons in the desert.

One of the attacks these demons mount against us to destroy our confidence in God and ourselves has to do with regrets and disappointments.

For example, with nothing much else to think about, thoughts came to my mind about stupid things I've said from time to time. I can now think of about six Christian organizations or areas of ministry where I'll never be invited back because of a couple of mis-timed words spoken in my more youthful, exhuberant days. 'If only,' I said to myself, 'If only I'd been more disciplined/careful/gentle...'

The poet Ed Sissman wrote-

"Men past forty

Get up nights

Look out at city lights

And wonder why life is so long

And where they made the wrong turn."

[Gordon MacDonald, Midcourse Correction (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 20 00), p. xiii].

When I was a child I used to regret not having a bicycle. When a teenager I regretted that my father didn't know anything; and that I wasn't encouraged to play more sport. As a kid I regretted having to practise on the piano - but later I regretted those regrets 'cos I enjoyed playing the piano when I got better at it!

Perhaps you regret

# a decision made in haste

# an opportunity lost

# studying the wrong course at university (or not applying yourself to study at all!)

# words spoken or not spoken

# a relationship which ended in a mess

# a job offer you didn't take or the great job you left

# an angry letter or phone call

# not being more assertive

# not taking more risks

# passing on a piece of gossip that hurt a friendship

# not being home more with the family

# maybe marrying the wrong person.

Regrets are strange things. We regret some things we could not have changed; we regret things that are now beyond our control...

Chronic regret, wrote someone, is a maximum security prison. Its iron bars are forged from our memories, our guilty consciences, our grief. Regret is not just about the past, though it often begins there. Decisions or actions you made a while back determined where you are today and limit where you will be tomorrow. You wish you had done things differently or chosen a different path.

Regret may be a prison. But unlike most cells, there is no lock on the door. We are our own jailers. Regret is not always healthy and chronic regret is not God's plan for us. We can open that door and be free. We get one chance at this business called living: shame to spoil it with chronic regrets...

We have our childhood dreams: we're going to change the world, live a happy life; and we land into middle-age with a thud and realize the world and our histories have changed us in ways we don't like...

Guy Doud had a woman who sat in his office with her face buried in her hands. She was weeping and she was repeating over and over, 'If only I could turn the clock back. . . . If only I could turn the clock back.' [Guy Rice Doud, 'Living Beyond Regrets' (Colorado Springs,CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1997), p. 51].

(Have you ever wondered what went through Hitler's mind as he killed himself?)

A woman in New York sold her family's jewelry for a dime. She didn't do it intentionally. It happened after she took the precious gems out of the safety deposit box to wear to a wedding. The bank was closed for the weekend, so she put the jewels in an old shaving case and stuffed it inside another box. In time she forgot all about the jewels. When her friend was collecting items for a garage sale, she gave her the shaving case. By the time the woman realized what she had done, the valuable heirlooms had been sold to an unknown buyer for 10 cents.


The most dramatic suicide-through-regret in the Bible is, of course, that of Judas Iscariot...

But Judas' greatest mistake was not betraying his Lord. His greatest mistake was not going to the cross to ask for and receive forgiveness. Regret does not have to say the last word.

Living negatively in the the past is demoralizing. (Have you heard about the poor man in Denver who was stricken with a strange mental illness that forced him to walk backwards all the time?' Predictably, his form of hysteria ended him up in hospital).

God has arranged the universe to encourage creatures to start afresh. Almost everything is renewable. The motto of our little counseling practice is 'It's never too late to have a happy childhood.'

I read today of a book written by a 102-year-old African American who learned to read and write at 98!

In theological college I had a teacher who wrote on to the blackboard: 'Don't just do something, sit there! (Then do something!)' It's called the 'reflection/action' model. Always think before acting. It is better to sleep on what you plan to do than to be kept awake by what you've done. If you need to write a strong letter, write it, get it out of your system, then tear it up. Or check with an experienced Christian friend about its wording, and the wisdom or otherwise of sending it!


The Bible's answer to regret over the past - for an individual or a church - is, in one word, HOPE.

Humans are 'hopeful beings'. Where there's hope there's life. That's because our God is a 'God of hope' (Romans 15:13). 'My hope is in the Lord' was the Psalmists' confident affirmation.

Hope is so much an essential part of Christianity that Paul says without it the Christian is the most miserable of all persons (1 Corinthians 15:19).

In fact, the notion of hope is woven like a golden thread through the whole fabric of God's creation. An experiment by psychologists at the University of North Carolina found that rats soon drowned if they were put in a large bottle without an apparent escape. But put the rat in a jar with the lid half cut away, and it will swim for about 36 hours before drowning from exhaustion!

Hope is more than optimism. The New Testament talks about the 'patience of hope'. Christian hope is deep; mere optimism may be shallow. Optimism may be a good natural trait - and have no religious connections at all. 'Hope', says John Macquarrie in his little book The Humility of God, 'is humble, trustful, vulnerable. Optimism is arrogant, brash, complacent... Our hope is not that in spite of everything we do, all will turn out for the best. Our hope is rather that God is with us and ahead of us, opening a way in which we can responsibly follow.'


'I don't know Who - or what - put the question. I don't know when it was put. I don't remember answering. But, at some moment, I did say Yes to Someone - or Something - and from that hour I was certain that existence and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.' (Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, Tr. W H Auden and Leif Sjoberg, London: Faber and Faber, 1964, p.169.)

Have you heard of Jean-Dominique Bauby? He was a Frenchman, editor-in-chief of the magazine, Elle. In 1995, at the age of 43, he suffered a massive stroke that left him completely and permanently paralyzed, a victim of what's called 'locked-in syndrome.' Here was a man who had been gregarious and witty, who was now unable to move or talk. He was totally dependent on hospital staff and equipment for all his bodily functions, but his brain remained unscathed, and he discovered that the only muscle in his body still under his control was his left eyelid. By blinking with that eye in response to a special alphabet, he let the outside world know that his mind was alive and well inside its immobile body.

By blinking and through sheer determination and will power, Bauby shared what it was like to be in his condition. At one point he referred to himself as 'a working brain in a jar.' In addition, he wrote a book entitled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which is a wonderful tribute to the human spirit. He also helped form an association for victims of locked-in syndrome and their families.

Christopher Reeve, in his book, Still Me, talks about playing Superman, and the glib definition he used to have of what a hero was. In those days, he said: 'A hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences.' But since an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.'

I think he's right.

'The human capacity to fight back will always astonish doctors and philosophers. It seems, indeed, that there are no circumstances so bad and no obstacles so big that we cannot conquer them.' (Jean Tetreau ).


Like most 15-year-olds, John Goddard had a wealth of heart-pumping dreams. One ordinary day in 1940, he bothered to write 127 of his life dreams on a pad of yellow paper. Most lists like that wind up in the attic with old report cards and letters from grandma. John's became a blueprint for life.

In 1972, Life magazine reported that, at age 47, he had achieved 103 of his original dreams. That article, entitled 'One Man's Life of No Regrets,' detailed his Master Dream List and became one of the most requested reprints in Life's long history. His list included a vast spectrum of dreams, including the following: visiting eight world-class rivers; studying 12 primitive cultures; climbing 16 of the tallest mountains; carrying out careers in medicine and exploration; visiting every country in the world; learning to fly an airplane; becoming an Eagle Scout; riding in a blimp, balloon, and glider; playing the flute and the violin; going on a church mission; teaching a college course; becoming a member of the Explorer's Club; and many more.

'When I was 15,' he told the Life reporter, 'all the adults I knew seemed to complain, "Oh, if only I'd done this or that when I was younger." They let life slip by them. I was sure that if I planned for it, I could have a life of excitement and fun and knowledge.'

Before editor and essayist Norman Cousins died, he wrote, 'The tragedy of life is not death, rather, it is what we allow to die within us while we live.'

What dreams do you need to actualize in order to live a life of no regrets?

Hope is not conditional upon trouble being removed. Hope means God is with us in trouble and in triumph. Resurrection hope means God is with us in life and death. Hope means the God who was with his people in the past will be with them always.

Christ has died, and we have died with him. Christ is risen, and with him we have passed from death to life. Inside that tomb with the grave clothes we have left our tears, our failures, our regrets, our long-cherished resentments, our broken promises, our shabby respectability. Easter is our personal deliverance from sin and death. It is the risen Christ speaking your name and mine.

The resurrection of Jesus is God's great announcement to us that life can begin again...


'In February 1945,' says one observer, 'I was one of hundreds of British and American POWs thrust into Stalag 3A at Luckenwalde, just outside Berlin. Unlike us, who rated some protection under the Geneva Convention, the Russians were helpless. Underfed, denied medical attention and forced to do hard labour, their death rate was staggering. Although we had no communication with their compound, each morning we watched in fascinated horror while a truck collected its daily quota of corpses.

'The days of tribulation ended on April 22, 1945, when we were all liberated by the Ukrainian army. Within hours, the Russian barracks in Stalag 3A were emptied; hundreds went off to fight again, while those too sick to volunteer remained behind. We then entered the Russian compound. It was a scene of indescribable horror. But in the heart of a barracks block they had wrought a miracle - they had built a church.

'We stood breathless. A great golden crucifix flashed from the altar, its radiance reflected in prismed chandeliers hung the length of the nave. The windows were a splendour of stained glass, and along the walls were the Stations of the Cross, fashioned in coloured mosaic. It seemed incongruous. How could starving, dying men have created so magnificent a place of worship? Then we looked closer and all was explained. The golden crucifix was two pieces of slim timber, painstakingly sheathed in gold-foil paper salvaged from the refuse dump. The chandeliers were creations of thousands of tiny slips of cardboard, each covered with silver paper and suspended by almost invisible threads. The stations of the cross were crafted not from Florentine porcelain tile but from bits of coloured paper snipped from magazines rescued from rubbish bins.

In the constant presence of death, and from scraps gleaned from the dump, they had built a church. God had illumined it with a divine authenticity.'

[Source Unknown: originally an article in The Readers' Digest].


In 1904 a child of wealth, William Borden, heir to the Borden Dairy Estate, graduated from a Chicago high school a millionaire. His parents gave him a trip around the world. Traveling through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe gave Borden a burden for the world's hurting people. Writing home, he said, 'I'm going to give my life to prepare for the mission field.' When he made this decision, he wrote in the back of his Bible two words: No Reserves. Turning down high paying job offers after graduation from Yale University, he entered two more words in his Bible: No Retreats. Completing studies at Princeton Seminary, Borden sailed for China to work with Muslims, stopping first at Egypt for some preparation. While there he was stricken with cerebral meningitis and died within a month. A waste, you say! Not in God's plan. In his Bible underneath the words No Reserves and No Retreats, he had written the words No Regrets. [The Daily Bread, Dec 31, 1988].


Choose some of the following:

1. Bible Study: Using 1 Peter 1:1-9 as your text, develop a sermon/study on the subject of hope. Here are some suggested headings: biblical hope is certain, living, a resurrection hope, and it's practical. Study the background of this epistle: to whom was the author writing about hope? What might have been their circumstances? How can we be encouraged to 'live in hope'?

2. 'Without the event of the third day, hope would have no grounds for understanding Good Friday as 'good' or Holy Saturday as 'holy'. Jesus would have been one more good man, swallowed up in defeat and death. But because of what we have come to call 'the resurrection', Christian hope understands the death of Jesus as the manifestation of God's transforming love touching our existence at its most hopeless point. Such hope understands his being dead as the power of that compassionate love to penetrate the depths of human defeat and isolation in order to engender a new creation.' (Tony Kelly, Touching the Infinite, Blackburn: Collins Dove, 1991, p.105).

Here's the best clue to dealing with regrets. Why?

3. Pang Hui: 'No matter what happened, I would go on living, living without complaint, regret or shame.' How do you get to be like that?

4. 'Stop a rumor or gossip instead of passing it on.' How can we learn to be more disciplined here?

5. Paul regularly reiterated his regretful pre-Damascus Road doings: see 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Galatians 1:13, Acts 22:4-5, Acts 26:11 etc. What can we do with the 'junk' in our lives before we found the Lord (or even _since_ we found the Lord, for that matter!)?

6. Try to make sense of Samuel Butler's statement: 'I believe that he was really sorry that people would not believe he was sorry that he was not more sorry.'

7. 'Let regrets be your instructor, not interrogator.' What does this mean?

8. A single woman comes to you for counseling. Her story: 'I fell in love with a terrific guy - he was sensitive, caring, a good listener. But after two years he told me he didn't "love" me, and didn't know why. In fact he didn't think he knew what "romantic love" was. We're still good friends, but after six months my heart is still broken. I regret sometimes ever getting to know him: he took me out of circulation for two years! Will I get over it?' How would you help?

9. 'To be free, to be able to stand up and leave everything behind -- without looking back. To say Yes -- .' Dag Hammarskjšld. How do you get to be like that?

10. Remember Esau? (See Genesis 25:29-34). He sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a pot of stew. Later he realized that he had bartered away something of great value, because in those days the firstborn received a double inheritance, and father Isaac had substantial assets. Exchanging something of great value for something worthless is actually quite common. Can you think of some examples?

11. 'Regret is what happens when reality collides with your dreams. But dreams are important....' Figure that out!

12. 'I wish I'd known then what I know now'. 'You can't put a wise head on young shoulders'. Can't you?

13. A psychologist writes: 'Living without regret requires difficult self-questioning. We must regularly ask ourselves these questions: What do I want? How will I know when I get it?' Why not share with the group your answers to these two questions?

14. Here's a little poem by Victor Hugo:

'Let us learn like a bird for a moment to take Sweet rest on a branch that is ready to break; She feels the branch tremble, yet gaily she sings. What is with her? She has wings, she has wings.'

How does Christian hope provide us with wings?

15. Found on an Internet newsgroup:

Written by Erma Bombeck at her learning of her terminal cancer (with some additional comments by the poster):

~ I would have talked less and listened more. ~ I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded. ~ I would have eaten the popcorn in the "GOOD" living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. ~ I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth. ~ I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed. ~ I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage. ~ I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains. ~ I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life. ~ I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day. ~ I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime. ~ Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment realizing that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. ~ When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, "Later. Now go get washed up for dinner." ~ There would have been more "I love you's" and more "I'm sorry's" ...but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute.....look at it and really see it ... live it ... and never give it back.

[In honor of women's history month and in memory of Erma Bombeck who lost her fight with cancer]. What would you add to these?

16. Life, wrote Baudelaire, is a hospital in which patients believe they will recover if they are moved to another bed. (For pastors: substitute the word 'church'!). Your experience?

17. When things are really bad, when they can't get worse, think about what they did at Stalag 3A.


Help me in my unbelief, O God, and give me gifts of patience and hope. Make me more constant in my love for you and my trust in you. In loving let me believe and in believing let me love; and in loving and in believing let me hope for a more perfect love and a more unwavering faith, through Jesus Christ my Lord...

O God, I hope, each day, for the lessening of sin's hold upon my will; for my growth in grace and in true holiness; for a more perfect holiness, and when this earthly life is through, for an experience of knowing even as also I am known.

And until I experience a triumphant welcome on the other side, thank you for your comfort and protection in all the days of my life so far. Your blessings outnumber the leaves of autumn or the stars in the sky. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose loving kindness we have been born anew; born to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; born to an inheritance which will never perish or fade away, kept for us in heaven. Amen.


May the eternal God, who has been the hope and joy of many generations, and who in all ages has invited men and women to seek him and in seeking to find him, grant you a clearer vision of his truth, a greater faith in his power, and a more confident assurance of his love.

May he who out of defeat brings new hope and new alternatives, continually bring you new life. For his greater glory. Amen.

A final blessing (adapted from a sermon by John Clapool):

May you travel from the place of despair to the place of hope. May you stop setting limits on what can and cannot be.

Behold our God! He can make the things that are out of the things that are not. He can make dead things come to life again. Neither empty wombs nor empty tombs are too much for him; which means neither are your problems, whatever they may be. Therefore, lift up your hearts. Be not afraid. He goes before us into the future. What are we waiting for? Let us go out in hope.


Use the keyword search for 'Hope', and 'Failure' (without 'quotes') on the John Mark Ministries website.

Rowland Croucher Originally written March 2001.