Our heroes impact our world, whether we understand that fully or not. Look at yours: does he or she determine at least some sort of choice you make on a daily basis? Do you wear his or her clothing line? Use the language that he or she uses in the interviews and media you read about him or her? Have you adapted your ideas and thoughts to align with theirs?
One such hero in my life changed the way that I operated. However, things didn’t necessarily change in the way you think they would. This hero of mine became a source of pain, regret, and sadness like none other.
Just like most guys, my dad was my biggest hero. He was invincible. He could do anything. And I wanted to be just like him. At 6’3”, I quite literally looked up to him, and I spent every single waking moment I could with my dad. We took trips together, we watched every football game possible together, and we even went to his work together. We were inseparable.
Until January 4th, 2005. Everything in my life changed, and the way I operated and lived my life changed drastically. A regular Tuesday morning altered the rest of my life.
If you remember back to your sixth grade year, you were probably somewhat like me: awkward, searching for your place in this world, and quite rebellious. I wanted to do the opposite of what was asked of me at all times. So, when my dad asked me to make him coffee on this Tuesday morning, for some reason I went into level 10 freak out mode. All sense of sanity and rational thinking left my thought process. We fought like we had never fought before, and I left the knockdown, drag out argument with three simple yet weighty words: “I hate you.”
Six hours later, I learned that those were the last three words I would ever say to my dad. My mom, sitting across a conference room table, told me that my dad had died of a massive heart attack, roughly 30 minutes after I left the house to go to school. My hero was dead. My life changed in an instant. I regretted, and still do regret, ever saying those three words to him when I really didn’t mean it in the first place.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all felt this kind of regret to some degree in our lives. Whether through hurting your best friend with your words, lying about your feelings and getting caught in a situation that could’ve been avoided with honesty, or jumping the gun in a decision with your next steps in life, you understand that power that this regret and pain have, and it’s left you helpless.
Do our heroes feel this way? Do they feel regret?
Did my dad ever regret situations in his life?
Will I ever overcome this regret?
There’s one hero in history that I can assure has felt this regret. This man, named Paul, was one of the most influential people in the first century. In fact, I would argue that he’s still influencing us today, giving us instruction and guidance through the words he wrote and the letters we have of his.
If you’re familiar with Paul, then you know that he shook the foundations of tradition in his day. He spread a message that this man named Jesus came to bring light into the darkness and bring that which was dead back to life, all through taking the punishment that we deserve. He gave his life to spread this message, and made sure that people would continue spreading it even after he was gone.
In one of the letters Paul wrote to a group of people who shared his convictions, purpose, and desires in Eastern Asia, a city called Philippi, he gave them these words of encouragement when instructing the people about what’s ahead: “Not that I have already obtained this [goal of knowing Jesus] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
However, Paul didn’t start off as the hero who penned these words, the hero that the Philippian people looked to for encouragement and authority. He started off as the villain, one of the biggest villains to the message for which he ended up giving his life. History tells us that Paul, when he was still going by the different name of Saul, ordered a man named Stephen to be stoned for teaching about this Jesus character. He stood by in approval as men and women murdered this man, and went about his merry way after he was sure there was no breath left in Stephen.
As he writes these words to the Philippians, I think it’s pretty clear that he was thinking about the time he had someone murdered because they were spreading what he now spread. He had deep regret for killing someone.
But, he didn’t let the regret kill him.
Instead, he focused on what he knew and what he could do. He thought with maturity, and held true to the things that he preached. He forgot the past, white-knuckled to what’s in front of him, and pressed on in full assurance that the things he knew to be true and correct were things in which he could place his faith and hope.
As time has passed, and I’ve grown in the truth where I can place my faith and hope, I look at these words while looking at the regret that I had with telling my dad I hated him, and I see that they cannot co-exist.
Whether you’re deep in the mire of regret, or just simply wishing you would’ve kept your mouth shut yesterday, I offer the same words of encouragement that this hero wrote that have stood the test of time:
Forget the past. Strain to what’s next. Press on no matter what. Grow in your thinking. And hold on to what you know.
When you do that in conjunction with getting to know who Jesus is, the Light that guided Paul will guide you into what’s next. The hero in you will rise up, defeat the villain of your regrets, and draw you into your purpose and reason for being here.