Reducing the ‘If I Coulds’

Harriet Beecher Sowe said, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.[i]” And what a bitter yet true saying that is. The idea of ‘if I coulds’ came up in conversation the other night with a group of newly marrieds. We were all reflecting on the importance of family ‘rituals’, things that make your family unique, like where people sit round a table, having family dinners, dad making special breakfasts on Saturdays, special family devotions… the ideas are endless. The conversation moved from there to the importance of maintaining family ties, good relationships with parents and siblings etc. The older one gets, the harder it is to maintain these kinds of things.

When my second oldest brother past away, this idea of showing affection while our family is still alive really came home to the three of us that remain, I remember the conversations we had till this day. With my mother’s going to be with the Lord, the ideas were fresh in my mind once again.

There are some regrets that are easy to get over, like regretting that you brought a Britney Spear’s cd when she first got famous, or telling all your friends how Miley Cyrus is an evangelical, or thinking that mullets were cool. But other regrets can stick and have bigger consequences. I think it was these thoughts that moved Jonathan Edwards to add to his list of resolutions, “I frequently hear persons in old age, say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.” The 5th commandment tells us to honour our parents, in this command there is intrinsically built in a net that would prevent bad regret. No one in their old age regrets that they did not watch more TV, or had seen more plays, or had watched more sport, or new more world news. What is it we hear people say in their old age, “Ah, if I could have spent more time with my wife/husband/kids” we don’t hear old women say, “If only I could have been a more successful career women” But we do hear them lament not raising their children more faithfully.

People often on the death bed regret not knowing their Bibles better, and yet that can’t express it that way. There is a rightful terror that can come on a person if while they were healthy they were not too concerned about the things of God, then suddenly, they have few Scriptures that can come to mind to comfort them, few hymns that hold precious truths, all they hear is what others repeat and reassure them with, but even those are weak, because they do not always know if God hears them anymore, since they know so little of His character.

It is interesting how the gospel should comfort you if you feel that you have much to regret, if you have many ‘if I coulds’ Paul writes is 1 Corinthians, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” So where we have not honoured, where we have not expressed gratitude,  where we have been weak, turn to the Lord in repentance, with a godly sorrow, He is the perfect restorer and equaliser. The things that have happened thus far are for our learning and training.

But if you don’t know Christ, all there is in the end is regret, like the rich man and Lazarus, how the rich man must have regretted not listening to the call of God. So friend don’t delay, there is no need for an eternity of regret. How much you will regret if you gain the whole world, yet lose your soul.

Christian, consider these truths, what family must you try to connect with more? In our day and age of internet there is no excuse for not doing what we can to express love for those God has put into our family, no matter how far away they are. Husband, what things can you do to love your wife as Christ loved the church, wife how can you honour and respect your husband, parents how can you be more faithful in raising your children in the ways of God, how can we all not be more fastidious to pray for each other, to read things that benefit us, to use time wisely. By God’s grace we will redeem the time.



[i]Merriam-Webster, Inc: The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Quotations. Springfield, Mass. : Merriam-Webster, 1992, S. 355

  2 comments for “Reducing the ‘If I Coulds’

  1. Nils Halland
    June 20, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Hi Tyrell,
    Regrets are a tricky things though. Our time on earth is very limited and the amount of things we could possibly do far outweighs the time available. I know there have been times when I’ve looked back and thought I wish I had done that differently. Or I wish I had been quicker/wiser when responding to a call from a friend. But in God’s sovereignty I wasn’t didn’t or missed out totally.

    The point I’m trying to make is, as corny as it may sound, the biggest regret I’d have is regretting something, spending time dwelling on things I’ve done wrong and can’t go back and change. Sure learn from your mistakes, change your future behavior, but the focus must be forward, not backward. i.e. Resolutions vs Regrets.

    Interesting question: I know in heaven we won’t have time for regrets,
    but what about in hell, regrets would assumable come from repentance, (sorrow over sin is a sign of repentance as worked by the Holy Spirit – will ‘repentance’ happen in those condemned to hell?) From the story of Lazarus, the rich man was dwelling on his current predicament, Abraham had to remind him of his past life (very tenuous interpretation I know), thoughts?

    • tyrellh
      June 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I like what you are getting at, don’t you think though that repentance has that forward looking aspect to it? Repentance is about realizing that you were wrong, and taking a different course of action, a different direction. A major part that is left out of repentance is restitution, I am sure we would say much about that.

      What do you mean that, “regrets would assumable come from repentance”. I think repentance does not produce regret as the passage quotes says. However in hell I think regret will be all there is, remember the Rich man in the story with Lazarus, asked for someone to go speak to his family, reflecting perhaps a wish that he has done something differently while on earth. What he didn’t remember from his past life were the pleasant things, those little tastes of the joy of heaven are all lost in hell, maybe that’s why those things were far from his mind, but the potential to do something different one earth was close

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