About three weeks before Christmas, our daughter came home from preschool with a bulging backpack. Excited to reveal its contents, she pulled the zipper back, revealing a gold star – a trail of red-and-green construction paper rings hanging beneath it. The paper chain was to be hung in her bedroom and every evening leading up to Christmas Day, she was to tear off a red or green link in anticipation of the big day ahead.
So, each night as I prepared to tuck her into bed, she ceremoniously tore off a ring of the chain we had taped to her bedroom wall. As the days passed, her excitement built and her smile widened. However, as the chain steadily shortened, my anxiety was expanding. Taking a deep breath with every link removed, I attempted to steady the ruminating thoughts in my mind. “There is so much to do and not enough time. I still haven’t bought my mother-in-law anything. I haven’t even started the wrapping yet. I can’t find the addresses for the Christmas cards….” The demands and tasks of Christmas overwhelmed me this year, and the paper chain countdown served as a daily reminder that I hadn’t done “enough” with my 24-hour day.
As the days passed, red-and-green strips of paper littered the house. Some landed in the bathroom trash can while others made their way downstairs to the recycle bin.
“Regrets are heavy and can tint the rear view mirror and distort the image if you allow them to.”
Now, three weeks after the Big Day and two weeks into a new year, I found myself thinking about Erica Whitaker’s helpful column about writing a letter to your future self. What would my future self say to the Christy sitting here in her messy house, thinking of all the things I did and didn’t do over the past year – some things I’m proud of, others that I regret? I don’t know, but I do know some things I would like to say to her.
Dear Future Self,
When you check your smartphone this morning, Facebook will remind you of past memories. You will see yourself smiling, arms around happy children and a handsome husband. Images of parties, vacations and friendships will scroll across the screen. Slow down and remember these times, as they have shaped who you are today.
Knowing you, however, it won’t be these moments that you dwell on. Too many people over the years have told you, “Enjoy every moment! Life goes so fast. Children grow so quickly.” They aren’t wrong about the speed, but every time someone instructs me to enjoy all the moments, the guilt and regret set in. And, this is where you can get stuck.
Nestled between those images of smiling faces and feet in the sand are the days when it was a struggle to get out of bed, the times your patience ran thin and you yelled at your kids, the insecurity that prevented you from taking risks, the grief that parenthood hasn’t been what you anticipated. Regrets are heavy and can tint the rear view mirror and distort the image if you allow them to.
It isn’t possible to enjoy every moment. Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus experienced grief, loss, pain, anger, fear. He wouldn’t be who he is without those experiences and those emotions. This is also true for you. Those days have been just as formative as the ones recorded online. Don’t discard them.
“Change – even transformation – often begins with how we view our past regrets.”
Yesterday a friend texted me her goals for the New Year and how she has begun implementing them. Her goals are ambitious and she has the drive to achieve them. Her text, however, was accompanied by a reflection on 2018 and all that didn’t “get done” and the lack of joy she experienced during the year. I resonate with her feelings and say to myself and to all of us, “Future selves, don’t discard the days that don’t make your Instagram top 9 and dump them into your digital and mental trash can. Redeem those red-and-green slips of construction paper and recycle them. They were, and are, a gift to you.”
A hindrance to New Year’s resolutions is that we expect to repeat the same behavior with hopes of a different outcome. The pile of clothes in the bottom of my closet is exhibit A. Simply saying, “I want to be organized this year,” does not magically create a Marie Kondo closet. To become the you that you hope for in the next year or the next decade, give some prayerful time and discernment to a few behaviors that need to change. And remember that change – even transformation – often begins with how we view our past regrets.
So, to all our future selves in this journey of faith, this is my hope and prayer:
May the guilt you feel when you crawl into bed tonight and think of the way you treated your spouse be recycled tomorrow into an apology.
May the tears that spring from the challenges associated with raising a child with special needs be recycled tomorrow into noticing those who live on the fringes. Start up a conversation with them and look them in the eye. They are beautiful and deserve to be seen.
May the snicker at the racist joke today be recycled tomorrow into a voice that advocates for minorities instead of reinforcing prejudices and stereotypes.
May the regret at letting today’s opportunity pass be recycled tomorrow into an intentional decision to take action.
May the emptiness that remains following today’s binge eating-shopping-drinking be recycled tomorrow into being honest about your feelings.
To my future self and yours, I pray that you have the wisdom and kindness to take the mistakes each of us make and recycle them into something new. It won’t happen on its own. Let there be grace and intentionality as we change behaviors to achieve outcomes that exhibit the love of God to ourselves and to others.
In the creative and redemptive goodness of God’s grace, let’s recycle our days. The red-and-green slips that landed in the bathroom wastebasket are now buried in a rotting heap. Those that made it into the recycling container will be made new.
May the same be said for each of us.