My oldest son is a great conversationalist. He is always engaging people in discussions with him, drawing them into talking about all sorts of things. “Dad, if you could have any super power, what would you be?” or “if you could shape shift into any animal, what would you choose?” Tonight we were riding together in the car, and he started another interesting conversation. “Dad, if you could go back and change one decision you’ve made in your life, what would it be?”
That’s a hard question. I’ve made lots of dumb decisions in my life. At first, I thought of the recent decisions that I’d change. But those wouldn’t change the course of my life. The decisions I’ve made lately are mostly not in that scope, not forks in the road that could lead my life in a different direction. It seems like they all build on what came before. So I thought back further. The first decade of my adult life were inhabited by several decisions that in hindsight were not ideal choices. Or, even when they turned out OK, I have to wonder where my life would have taken me if I had chosen that job, or moved to some other town, or said “Yes” to that invitation.
My answer was a little bit of a surprise to me. “I don’t think I’d change any of them,” I told my son. “There are things I did and decisions I made that were mistakes, and at first glance of course I’d say I would like a redo. But what if changing a decision years before meant that I wasn’t in the place in my life where I met your mom? What if it meant I didn’t have you? I wouldn’t take any of it back if that was the result.”
The things that happen in our life make us who we are. Even the bad parts. I think back to the worst of my youth, the hardest separations, the greatest losses. I think of the missed opportunities of my early adult years with some regret. Yes, there are regrets in there. For the most part though, in retrospect even from here they aren’t the things you might think.
It’s not the choices that might have made me more successful or wealthy that I regret the most, or wish I could change. The things I’d change aren’t the things that would change the course of my life. Those things are what build together to make me who I am today. I’m far from perfect today, but I don’t want to be someone else. The things I regret, that I’d do over if I could, are the times when I hurt others, when my choices turned out to be a land mine for someone else’s road.
In the end, I think it turns out that all things work together for good for those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose. It turns out that he was in control, even when I was making the bad choices. The hard parts, and even the results of the bad choices, were all opportunities for growth. Some of them I made good use of. Some I maybe could have done better. The things that were hardest, God meant for good.
James 1 tells us that we should consider it all joy when we face troubles and trials of all kinds, because they bring about perseverance, and faith, and growth. This is the process of transformation. It can’t happen instantly, because instant character isn’t character. Even Christ had to actually be obedient to the death for him to have been fully obedient. Being someone who would be that obedient if the opportunity ever came up just isn’t the same.
Our lives are not accidents. Even the worst that happens in our lives is designed for our transformation and growth. Sometimes, as I think back, I can see that I wasted some of the pain. Even that, I know in faith that God transforms for my good. He’s that kind of good God. When I am in the darkest valley I have to cling to that truth, and not let go even when I can’t really see it any more, and can’t imagine what it even looks like any more. Even in the darkest valley he is with me, and even there he is faithful. When sight fails I have to cling tighter to those things I know are true but can no longer see.
As I face the challenges of today and tomorrow, I need to keep that in mind. The things that God brings about are for my good. Even the things that I bring about by my poor choices, God will use for my good. I can have a part in making that even more beneficial and less painful a lot of the time by paying attention and responding well to hardship. But the most important part is to trust God. Trust him to be God. Trust him to be good. Just trust him.