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Contemplating Past May Improve Future

Regret, remorse, misgiving; all denote a feeling of discontentment regarding events that have passed. Every adult on earth has experienced this at one time or another and knows it’s not a picnic. But what should we do with it when it comes?

Vacation (in most people’s minds) is a time of exploring new places and being actively engaged. According to this definition, my annual trip to the beach would not meet the criteria. There was very little running around, and most of our exploration time was done when the kids were younger. We spent our days in a pattern of reading, riding bikes, watching the waves and an occasional bout of boogie boarding. Throw in our “best burger on the beach” quest and this sums up my ocean-front tenure.

Suffice it to say that there was an abundance of quiet time to reflect. And I don’t know why I’m still surprised after all these years that I inevitably land in a place of nostalgic regret. Of course there are many more sweet, fun and crazy memories from my life than sad ones, but the missed opportunities, mistakes and bad choices seem to shout the loudest for my attention.

I lament that I wasn’t a better mother when the kids were small, because now they’re grown and I don’t have the chance to read to them for an extra few minutes or sit by the bed while they fall asleep.

I have heartache that I wasn’t a more attentive daughter, visiting more frequently—because now my mom’s gone and I can’t drop by to see her.

I rue actions earlier in my marriage that caused my husband pain. He forgave me and loves me more than ever, but I can’t undo those choices.

Sounds like a great time, huh? But self-reproach and condemnation are powerful tools. If we never pick them up, we may miss the lessons to be learned from close scrutiny and introspection. However if we over-use them, we do more harm than good to our own spirit, self-inflicting abuse and undeserved measures of pain.

As with most other factions of life, balance is the key to self-evaluation. Contentment comes with contemplation and dealing with the past. Here’s the challenge I’m issuing:

For those who run through life at warp speed; build in an annual pilgrimage that includes a slower pace, some solitude and a time of honest contemplation.

For those who are naturally more introspective; take a sincere look at the life you’ve lived, own up to mistakes, but then bathe yourself in grace. Self-flagellation is borne of self-absorption. Forgive yourself and move on with a lighter load.

For both types of people; make sure you garner every morsel of insight and work toward improvement so next year when you repeat this exercise you’ll have less to deal with

I know that now I can choose to stop whatever I’m doing to listen if my kids or grands want to talk. I can spend more quality time with my dad because he’s still here. And I can make kind, loving choices in my marriage every day.

Are there any places, times or activities that force you to evaluate your past? Do you have an intentional time (at least yearly) to do this? Tell us how it goes?

  • Awesome and powerful article Diane and so needed by many, especially myself! My biggest regrets are the things I saw out of anger to my husband and children when I am angry. I work on it daily, but fail just as often. I really appreciate you being so open and transparent, you inspire me to keep striving to do better! I appreciate your articles very much and have missed reading them. Feel free to tag me anytime! God bless you and keep up the good work!