In 1990 I bought a lot of new dresses. It was the year I turned 19, and I went to the weddings of 16 friends that year.
By the end of the year, I was the only one I knew that didn’t get married. Not completely accurate but I had certainly placed myself ‘on the shelf’ by the time I was 20 for glaringly obvious reasons.
Living in a country town, the ultra-modern fashions of the 1980’s lingered long into the next decade of bridesmaidwear. I remember one occasion when we were measured and remeasured for a taffeta design in a bold watermelon tone. Of course, it had a drop waist; you wouldn’t wear a dress without a drop waist during those years. Sitting on my lower back was an oversized bow that needed its own church pew.
My hair was usually big with its regular spiral perm, but on this day it was bigger and higher than ever before. My dress sleeves were so puffy that the tip of my nose brushed over them when I turned to look over my shoulder. It was incredible.
Fashion regret is strong with anyone, like me, a teenager of the eighties. Memories of heady days wearing acid wash double-denim or multiple layers of scrunched-down socks will force a smirk to the face of any prior offenders.
The thing about my Watermelon Fluff of Puff is that I was persuaded by all my teenage sensibilities that this was the dress to turn heads. I held no doubt that there was any imperfection in my choices.
What I have discovered about regret is that it is cultivated over time. It grows stronger and heavier between propagation and the present. Regret that eats us up and causes stomach angst is grown in the tilled earth over long periods. It’s a time-lapsed ecosphere where there’s a transfer of current opinions over the top of an older time and place.
You could flick back through any yellowed photo album and allow cringe to creep down your spine as you overlay your current sophistication over you previous naiveté. The truth is, in that captured time, you were possibly making the best decisions you were capable of in that earlier version of yourself.
The version of me that made decisions 27 years ago is hardly in existence in 2017. It’s a harsh thing to bring judgement upon that earlier person from the place you inhabit now. In 1990 I was living the best current version of me which somehow allowed me to backcomb my permed fringe and spray it into position.
But teased hair is hardly the type of regret that keeps me from sleep at night. Deep remorse is an easy list to rattle off; relationship destruction, parenting flunks, and career primacy are at the top of the list apparently.
Regret is our human emotion that alerts us that something went wrong. It’s like a nerve ending in our emotional intelligence that flinches when we’ve come to a new realisation. It’s an emotion that helps modify future moves.
I would hope the regret that I feel some nights after a significant parenting fail will help in changing my orientation for the next, mercy-new day. Regret is something to be engaged with and used as a catalyst, not cultivated in a greenhouse.
Paul said harsh stuff to the Corinthians, relationships got damaged and the situation turned messy. It was a muddle of pain, hurt and remorse but here’s what happened…
You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him. The result was all gain, no loss. Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.
I’m far more familiar with a variety of regret that cripples and disables yet here the language is startlingly light, claiming “all gain, no loss”.
Is there anyone with years of regret fatigue that doesn’t hunger for this turn around of trajectory? Your remorse will feel heavier the longer you carry it. Your posture will alter over time as you struggle to balance your emotional load. Your aching will paralyse other parts of your life. You can cite ‘regrettable circumstances’ for every dysfunction, or you can let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from Him.
All gain, no loss.