When I saw an ad this winter for a new TV show called Hindsight, I was intrigued. The ad was colorful and fun, and the fact that it was on VH1 didn’t even register. Once I read the synopsis, though, the Nostalgia Channel ever made perfect sense as this show’s home. Also? After reading one little paragraph about the show, I was sold. I knew immediately that this show was for me.
Hindsight is about a woman in her late 30s about to get married for the second time. The night before her wedding she somehow is magically transported to the night before her first wedding. It’s there, in 1995, that she has the chance for a do-over. With 30 years of hindsight to guide her, she’s able to make better choices this time around.
Or so she thinks.
As it turns out, making better choices isn’t quite that easy. Life is messy and complicated and nobody really understands time travel or grandfather paradoxes or immutable timelines. So figuring out what needs to be different – and the effects such changes will bring – is a whole lot harder than learning to live without a smartphone and remembering how to walk in Doc Martens.
Several years ago I found myself in what I still consider The Worst Interview Ever. Not only did I have to battle a sinus infection and postpartum hormones, I also had to drive through a snowstorm. But I was an unemployed new mom who desperately needed a job, so I powered on through.
For all the good it did me.
The man who interviewed me was abrasive and awkward and spent the majority of our time together grilling me about every choice I’d made since high school. From the college I attended to the major I chose to the jobs I’d held, he demanded an explanation for each decision and then asked me, after each answer:
“Do you regret that choice?”
As a matter of fact I did not regret my choices that day! I had reasons for why my decisions were good ones or why the other available options weren’t any good at all. But looking back to that cold, annoying day, I wonder if I’d answer his questions differently today.
I really don’t have a lot of regrets about my life so far, but as time goes on and I get older and, hopefully, a little wiser, I can certainly see immaturity or ignorance that played a part in many of the paths I’ve taken.
But to say I regret any of those things? Well, even now I wouldn’t really say that. Because the choices I’ve made – the good, the bad, and everything in between – have led me here. And those choices and that path have given me a story to tell and a testimony to share, about God’s grace and His goodness and His plans that don’t need my permission to play out.
Do I regret choosing a small state college over a bigger one with more options? Sometimes. But I wouldn’t give back the friends I made (or the degree I earned) during those four years for anything.
Do I regret getting married when I was only 20 years old? Maybe sometimes, in some ways. But not really, because I wouldn’t want to make any choice that resulted in me living my life without Mark.
Do I regret quitting that job or taking this one, joining that church or leaving that one? Nope. I might miss people I left behind or occasionally long for roads not taken, but I would never give up the relationships I’ve built and lessons I’ve learned on the roads I have walked.
Even the hard things don’t fall neatly under an umbrella of regret.
Two of my best friends from college haven’t spoken to me in years over misunderstandings and mistakes. My part in that loss is one of the things I regret most – but even then, I’m not sure I’d do it differently if I found myself traveling back to 1999.
Sometimes the pain of those broken relationships still makes my stomach hurt and my eyes sting, and I miss those two people fiercely. But I learned some really important things through the breaking of those bonds, and I’m not sure I’d trade those lessons for what would likely be a Facebook friendship today.
And just recently I talked with friends about how I felt when I first read the book, Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs. Honestly? I was mad. I was mad that Mark and I had wasted so many years simply because we didn’t understand this concept! I was mad that nobody taught us these things, that we came to our marriage not knowing the slightest thing about loving or respecting, that even if somebody did try to teach us, well, we didn’t hear them.
If only we could go back . . . !
Except, no. If we went back (again, to 1999 – a big year for me and decisions!), we might get it “right” this time around. But we might not. And no matter what, we wouldn’t have the story God has given us today.
I certainly wish my marriage had been all flowers and candelight and surprise weekend getaways, but because it hasn’t been, we have a testimony and a “me, too” that God uses to encourage others in challenging relationships. And because we’ve survived our love and respect ignorance and are choosing every day to be a little bit better, we have a story about God’s redemption that I pray will speak and minister to hearts fighting the same battle.
Okay, fine, but what about the one thing in my life that causes me distress every single day? No, I’m not talking about the “cute” “starter” house we bought TWELVE YEARS AGO, even though YES, maybe there’s some regret there (EXCEPT NOT REALLY because we might not have gone to our old church if we didn’t live in this neighborhood and there’s no WAY I’d trade all that has given us for a sewer that doesn’t stop working and windows that don’t get stuck).
What about my weight? If I could go back, wouldn’t I do things differently there? SIGHHHHHHHH. Yes. Oh yes, I would. In a heartbeat. I would take care of this body and set myself up for success. I would love myself, inside and out, and treat myself accordingly. I would!
Except . . . would I?
Even if I went back a decade or two with the knowledge I have today — the mental pictures of what my mirror shows me, the feeling of trying on one more pair of pants that don’t fit even though they’re THAT size, the humiliation of being tagged on Facebook in a photo I didn’t realize someone took — would I really dredge up the effort to put down the Little Debbie cakes and go work out?
I’m not sure I would. As much as I hate to admit it (you know, in case you actually have a time travel device handy and were going to offer it to me right now?), I think this awful lesson might be one I had to learn the hard way.
It turns out turning back time isn’t as appealing as it seems. I might have regrets — people I’ve hurt, cookies I’ve eaten, money I’ve spent — but even though they sadden me greatly, I’m thankful for what those decisions have taught me and the place they’ve led me to.
This life God has given me and the person He’s making me are worth the pain of being fallible, of having less-than-perfect vision, of not knowing what I’ll understand tomorrow.
If I could turn back time, I don’t think I would.
If you could turn back time, would you?
Photos by David Santaolalla, Phillip Pessar, iMorpheus, and me.
GO MARY!! I love this post!! Living without regrets is a wonderful way to look at life. I try to do that every time I remember that resolve… When my Dad died suddenly a few years ago my reality was changed overnight and I realized just how short life could be. (He was 75 and had been given a good long life) but finding my Daddy girl self without a Daddy was a shocker! But it has made me pay more attention now – think deeper about things in the day to day. Would I time travel? Perhaps, but like you, I am not sure I would change anything given the wonderful ways in which God has shaped those things for good in my life. =) Thanks for the question though.
Thanks, Lina. I think even just pondering the question can lead us to a deeper level of awareness and gratitude for the life we have right now!!
I absolutely love this post and identify completely. Especially the weight struggles and eating cookies part. I have struggled with regret a lot lately, but thankfully I have begun to come to some of these conclusions. You say a lot of wonderful things here, and it is a great reminder that we are who we are because of all our choices, good and bad. Also, regarding my weight (I’ve also recently joined Weight Watchers–the struggle is seriously real), when I am tempted to despair that I’ve wasted too much time, I remember this quote: “It is never too late to be who you might have been.” I also think about that when I find myself mourning over past relationships. I keep reminding myself to be invested in my present ones even more. So, to answer your question, no, I wouldn’t go back either. :-)
Jennifer, I love that quote. I’ve written about how it’s never too late, that we often see something as a last chance when it’s anything but that – yet when I feel discouraged about things it’s easy to forget that truth! Thank you for your kind, encouraging words!!
Nope. I agree that the good, the bad and the ugly make us who and what we are today and I wouldn’t want to change one thing.
However if I could go back I’d love to hold my little babies one more time. If I had to choose a regret it would be not enjoying my daughter more when she was little. However, I did the best I could at the time and try to enjoy her now instead :). Great post!
I think learning from our past is the best we can do in this world without time travel, wouldn’t you say? :) (Insert moment of silence for our lack of time traveling abilities…)
Have you ever seen the card game Chrononauts? It is fun to play, but what I like most about it is the framework it gives me for thinking about time: Some events are Linchpins that are truly crucial to enabling other things to happen. Other events are Ripplepoints that turned out the way they did but could so easily have gone another way. I wrote about this way of looking at time here: Living on the Flip Side.
Although I sometimes think about what I’d do if I could time-travel, mostly I just look back at my life and think about which events turned out to be the Linchpins and which Ripplepoints were affected by each of them. It’s not always what you’d predict. For example, when I decided to quit playing viola at the end of seventh grade because I wasn’t good at it, that seemed like no big deal. But my leaving the school orchestra put me in a different lunch period in eighth grade and allowed me to be in the section of Honors English that met the same hour as orchestra, instead of in the other section with a different teacher; therefore, I got closer to different friends and had a teacher who encouraged my writing and certain aspects of my personality; all this had repercussions through high school, leading to the Linchpin decision to be editor of the school radio show AND write for the school newspaper instead of taking calculus, which was a major battle with my parents but led to many great experiences for me. If I hadn’t quit orchestra, I might have become an architect, but I’d be a very different person than I am today, and I’m mostly happy with how I’ve turned out.
If I did have a chance to go back in time, I think I’d use it just to get more of a time I loved. When I was 6-13 years old, I spent part of every summer at Grandma’s house; we loved talking together, but I also spent a lot of time reading. I thought those summers would go on and on, but Grandma got cancer when I was 14 and died when I was 15. If I could get some more time with her, I’d put the book down and hang out talking more.
Ooooh, I’ve never heard of that game, but I love thinking about those things, too – which seemingly insignificant choices or circumstances led to big parts of my life. Definitely an interesting way to look at things!
Wow, excellent thoughts and points. I’m still pondering….
If you feel like sharing those ponderings, I’m all ears! :)