Thursday, January 23, 2014

What do you regret?

Our stories can help others deal with success and with failure.

That means it’s important to write stories about getting life right and blowing it, about succeeding and falling short.

We can’t go back and undo bad decisions and failures but, if we’re wise, we’ve learned from them and made positive changes.

And, here’s a bonus: if we share our stories, maybe our kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids won’t make the same mistakes.

Recently on Facebook someone asked, “What do you regret?” The question got some lighthearted and groan-worthy replies:

cooking with margarine
using artificial sweeteners
that perm I got in the ‘70s
that orange body suit
EVERYTHING about high school
Reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull and thinking it was profound

It’s good—valuable, recommended—to include funny, lighthearted stuff. Make ‘em laugh. Humor connects, it endears you to your readers and makes them keep reading.

That’s important.

So include humor in your vignettes. (Don’t miss this: Like a sneak attack; it’s one of the most powerful techniques a memoirist can use.)  

But don’t stop there. Write your way into more consequential failures.

What do you regret?

Maybe you lament getting into a bad habit or an addiction.

Or losing contact with a friend or relative,

not saying “I love you” often enough,

spending too much time on your career and not enough time with your children,

family feuds,

telling a lie,


One of my biggest regrets is walking around a dying refugee on a sidewalk in Nairobi. Ignoring her. How could I have been so cold-hearted? I still reel over the long list of ways I totally blew it.

Ah, such things hurt, don’t they? Sometimes regrets can endure for years. But I have good news.…

One of the beauties of writing a memoir is the pondering, examining, and reflecting it requires. The process can prompt us to ask God and others for forgiveness and turn our lives in a different direction.  

And here’s where it gets better:

“That God still chooses to use us flawed human beings 
is both astonishing and encouraging.” 
Richard Stearns, World Vision

Yes, God can and does use us, flawed as we are: By telling our stories, those who come after us can learn from our mistakes and gain wisdom for living life well—but only if they know our stories.

So what do you regret? Or, who do you know who made a horrible blunder?

What was God doing in the event, as you see it now, in retrospect?

What deeper lessons did God have for you in the experience?

What did you learn about yourself?

What did you learn about God?

How did the experience change your life? What new person did you become?

What stories can you write about doing things differently in the future? About getting a second chance? About making a new start?

Write your stories!


  1. I really do try to live my life without regrets and have done so for a very long time. I'd have to think long and hard about what I regret. I agree it would be good to do some thinking about it and use the learning experience(s) in a memoir.

  2. Penny, I suspect that if you think back, way back, you'll remember something you regretted that caused you to live, now, without regrets. Good for you! That's what it is to gain wisdom and make right choices, that's the way God turns our ashes into beauty! The regrets I have from my naive youth and young adulthood are stories I can share with my grandkids and I hope and pray they might avoid my foolishness. I hope that makes sense. Bless your heart, Penny. You are a dear. :)

  3. This punched me right in the heart, Linda. Beautiful. I love that we can turn those regrets into healing through the Lord, and it can help us be better for it.

  4. Ah, Lia, write your stories, dear girl! Write your stories! Others need to hear them.

  5. Linda, profound post filled with truth! What more can a reader ask for? You have hit the mark solidly with this one. And as a fan of Bonhoeffer, thanks for the quote!

  6. Sherrey, I'm so thankful for your observations and insights and kind remarks. We're all in this together, aren't we? Keep writing. I'm eager to read your memoir! :)