When we enter a college lounge or hangout place for young people, there are inspirational verses reminding them to not be worried, make free choices, and not worried about regrets. Yet, often times, we see a lot of regrets around us. They come in different forms and in different ways. We have regrets about the choices that we made or did not make. Even if we are able to do everything we like, regrets are still possible and prominent. So, how can we really live life without regrets and fully as we are called to be as people of faith? I would like to offer two examples from two different saints, St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata and St. Ignatius of Loyola.
First, we have to recognize that we cannot simply live life fully. We cannot worry about not having the ability to do everything that we desire. We cannot be resentful about what we did not get to do or could have done. Reality reminds us that we do not always have what we want, not all dreams will be lived out, nor all desires will be fulfilled. If we only judge our lives according to what we can or able to do, how free we are to pave our own path and draw our own self-centered identity, then we will forever be unhappy. Why? The short answer is that happiness is not simply a euphoric sense of joy. The real pursuit of happiness is much more than our feelings and emotions and how we are dictated by them. Happiness goes much more than that! It is deeper than that. Happiness is ultimately knowing who we are, where we belong, and who loves us. Happiness is found in and with love.
Regrets happen when we do not know who we are, hence always afraid of what we are missing out and not able to do. Regrets exist because the fears and anxieties of our insecurities and greed motivate us, making us question whether we are able to get what we have. Yet, greed is like an endless, bottomless bag of nothingness that leads us to nowhere but more envies, jealousies, and more insecurities because we are too worried about what we do not have while comparing ourselves with people around us who seem to have things better than us. We spend many of our time worrying about how to be happier and more fulfilled, yet always end up feeling less happy and unfulfilled. This is where the paradoxical reality of “in giving of ourselves that we receive” teaches us much about the real meaning of life and happiness. The more we worry about ourselves and what we want, the more unhappy and unfulfilled we become; yet, when we know who we are and able to give ourselves wholeheartedly, we become more fulfilled, content, at peace on a deeper level.
Simply put, happiness and its fulfillment are not based on the quantity of how many things experienced but on the quality of life and what is really meaningful and substantial for us. Real happiness is the ability to be content with what we have and what we are blessed with instead of trying to compare ourselves with others or second-guessing ourselves with what we are missing out. I have seen too many people who live on the two extremes, of either regretting about the missed choices and the things they had not done or the decisions that were done without proper discernment and reflection that ended up hurting them in the long run. Many older people have regrets with the choices that they did not make; however, too many young people that I have seen nowadays are making really rash or poor choices because they do not want to miss anything. We have probably heard some of our young people used the term, “YOLO (you only live once)” to justify their actions. Yet, as a priest, I have seen the unfortunate scars, hurts, and pains that accompany one’s poor or rash decisions. Many of them end up hurt and scarred for life for the poor choices that they had made when they were young. Therefore, as with any discernment and proper decision-making skill, one needs to be moderate, prudent, and wise in making choices with appropriate timing, reflection, and prayer for we are not simply robots or machines that do not get hurt or experience pains.
Nevertheless, we also have to recognize that even with timely discernment and proper decision-making skill, we can still make mistakes or get hurt. There are always too many moving and unknown factors and complexities that we cannot see, so to live life is to accept reality as it is instead of trying to control everything or having things particularly our way. That is why St. Mother Teresa once said: “I prefer to make a mistake because I am too kind than to perform miracles without any kindness.” She invited us to not be scared to continue to give ourselves even if we might get hurt. The saint invited us to live life theocentrically — God-centered — instead of being egocentric — self-centered — to be selfless instead of self-conscious. She asked us to seek the divine presence and to radiate His love through our kindness and cares for one another instead of what is only beneficial for us.
While regrets make us become myopic, close-minded, self-centered, and narrow-visioned as we become darkened to the larger reality around us, the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love widen our vision so we can see the full spectrum of blessings instead of only focusing on what is wrong or not there. To be grounded and centered in God helps us to see things as they are, not only in the temporal clause but in the light of eternity, not only in a hedonistic sense but in the salvific understanding of life. Egocentricity makes us look at the world in monotone colors, either for us or against us, beneficial or nuisance for us. Yet, by focusing on God and seeing everything through Him allow us to see the richness of life, all the grandeur and hidden beauties as they are and should be. Just like in order to have mountains, hills have to exist and valleys have to be present. Just like in order for the atmosphere to work properly, there have to be different types of weather, ranging from favorable and beautiful ones to stormy and dangerous ones. Therefore, we understand that even in our trials and hardships, even if we have to endure wrongs and injustices, even if we do not get we want, life is still beautiful and worth living no matter what!
Hence, if we look at things from the scope of eternity and through God, we then realize that the only and biggest regret is that we have not taken enough time to enrich, nurture, and deepen our relationship with the One who creates, loves, and gives us life. The biggest failures would be to live life trying to have everything and wanting everything except for the One who matters the most. The greatest questions become then, “What is truly important for us? Where do we find our happiness? Are we happy with what we have and content with the ordinary blessings and beauties of life?”
Look at what is going on around you! We really do not need much. Our eyes are just wanting and wandering, our mind is just comparing and envying. Yet, when we become focused on Christ, we will feel within us the urge to let go, to prioritize, and to substantiate all things so that He is the most important priority and center of our lives and decisions. Every relationship, everything that we possess, every decision, every word and action is aligned and discerned in light of this ultimate relationship with Christ Jesus. Freedom is no longer about our own choices of doing whatever we want because we are seeking true liberation from lower goods and choose not to be enslaved by the sins of this world. All of the memories that we made and have, our understanding of its knowledge, as well as our will are fixed and aligned in unison with the Lord and His will for us! Whatever we have, we recognize that they have all been blessed and given out of love by the Lord. Therefore, we practice spiritual indifference as we learn to use all things as instruments, detach from the things that are unbeneficial to our spiritual life, and allow Him to use us according to His will. By living in unity and allowing the love of God to guide and lead us, our lives become defined not by the regrets of this world and its quantifiable lackings but by the richness of divine grace. Our lives, when full of love and centered on God, become rich and life-giving as we radiate and share His goodness to others. It is no longer we who give our ego and control other people, but to give, share, and radiate the love of God to all whom we encounter.
I believe, at least for me, true love and fullness of life are grounded on not being regretful of what we do not have but knowing that we are rich with what we already possessed. I would like to end this reflection with St. Ignatius‘ own words as we take a moment to reflect and examine what we have and how blessed we are in His love. May we not be afraid, calculative, or regretful, but to live in the fullness of His love for us! Let us dare to love and to live life as it deserves to be lived in the light of truth and in the scope of our eternal life with the One who loves us.
“Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, You have given me; I give it all back to You and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.”