“You must be used to not driving by now”, she said. I stood there, looking at her, feeling like someone had just punched me in the gut. She had said it so matter-of-factly. No big deal. She was just making conversation. I think she really thought that.
My reaction was a whole other matter. I was suddenly furious. I felt like I had been slapped. All I can say is that my mother did a good job raising me. She taught me good Southern manners that kicked into play at that very moment. Instead of screaming at this very nice lady who truly meant no harm, I politely said, “It’s hard, but we get through it.”. I quickly changed the subject and excused myself from the conversation. I had to walk away.
The visceral nature of my reaction surprised me. It had been 5 years since I had quit driving. Five years, since I was diagnosed with this degenerative retinal disease that was slowly stealing my sight. Five years, since we had made the decision that I would no longer drive, to protect myself and everyone else on the road.
In my brain and even in my heart, I knew this was the right decision. But just because it was the right decision, that did not mean that it was not hard. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Giving up my car keys meant giving up my independence. For a stubborn, self-reliant girl like me, it was devastating.
But we had gotten through it. I had learned how to make requests of my husband to take me where I needed to go. He had learned how to respond. We had learned the critical lesson of how to negotiate the transportation needs while being honest and courteous at the same time. Well, at least, most of the time. I had learned to request and accept rides from friends and neighbors. I’ll be honest, there were many times that it hurt my pride. Perhaps the most difficult thing was dealing with the times when I could not find a ride somewhere I wanted to go. No one else knows how many times I held those car keys in my hand, looking out the window at the car and trying to resist the temptation to put those keys into the ignition. But I didn’t. I honored our decision not to drive. And, we had gotten through it.
So why was this woman’s comment making me so angry?
Because it brought to the forefront all those regrets. Regrets over the loss of independence. Regrets over the burden I placed on my husband as a result of this disease. Regrets over all the things I couldn’t do anymore and still wanted to do.
Not only did regret make a visit in that moment. I found that his brother, resentment, had stepped in the back door. I had not invited him, but he had showed up with a vengeance.
We all have regrets. Things we wish we could have done and didn’t or couldn’t. Choices we made that led to consequences we never wanted or intended. Poor decisions that trail us relentlessly for the rest of our lives. Losses. All kinds of losses. Loved ones, job failures, health problems. Something, all of us have something that we wish hadn’t happened. Something we would change if we could.
Regrets are part of life. The key question is what do we do about them? Because if we don’t let our regrets go, we find ourselves dealing with resentment. Resentment is like an uninvited houseguest who shows up unexpectedly. You think that he will only stay for a couple of days, but soon you find him hanging around for a decade or more. Come to think of it. He actually may never leave. Not unless you throw him to the curb.
Resentments have a way of building up. They increase over time, instead of dissipating as we would think they should. The only way to get rid of resentment is to release it. Let it go. Consciously choose to let it go. Stop the blaming. Stop reliving the injustice of injury. No more instant replays. State your regret. Accept it as something you cannot change. Then let it go. Let it be part of your past, not part of your today.
If we don’t let resentments go, they breed bitterness. And I tell you the truth, bitterness is no way to live. It’s toxic. It steals your joy. It steals your hope.
Letting go of resentment is not easy. You feel wronged. You feel short changed. You harbor that resentment, because you think you have a right to it. Now meet regret’s other brother, unforgiveness. Resentment and unforgiveness have a tight relationship. They are best buddies. They are destructive. They will wreck your house.
There is a reason why Jesus teaches us that we must forgive our enemies. Partly, this is because none of us are perfect. We all fall short. We all make mistakes. We are all in need of forgiveness. So much so, that Jesus gave his life for us, that we might be forgiven for our sins. Another part of this equation is that if we seek to be forgiven for our sins, we have to be ready to forgive others. But perhaps the most surprising reason we must forgive is because of what it does for us. Forgiveness frees us. Forgiveness releases us from the burden of bitterness. We are just so much better off when we will let the injustices of this life go, instead of gnawing on them for days or years or decades.
And it’s not easy. It takes time. It’s a process. We need God’s help to move past our regret. To turn our backs on the harm that another has caused us. It’s tough to go that road alone. If we ask, God will meet us where we are and walk with us through the process of letting it all go.
As I walked away from the well meaning woman making her casual comment, I knew I had a problem. I thought I had overcome all this. I suddenly realized that I had not. I knew I had some things to work through. I started the process of getting some help to release this root of bitterness.
It took time. I made a choice to work on it, but the resentment didn’t dissipate overnight. It required a choice and it required effort. It takes a lot of effort to successfully let something go. For those really hard things, sometimes it requires revisiting it time and time again until it’s gone for good.
I’m not quite sure when it happened. But one day, I noticed that the tug toward the car keys was no longer there. I had accepted that this was how my life was going to work out. To my great surprise, I found that it was really OK. There was just so much more to my life than a set of car keys could ever hold. So many good things to cherish, so many blessings.
Somehow, I had managed to kick regret and his brothers out the door.