October 19, 2017

No Regrets: A Better Look At Life

rregYoung folks in ministry. Adults living in regret. This is for you.

There was a time, in the last decade, that I constantly and painfully struggled with regrets about various choices I’d made in my life.

I regretted not finishing doctoral studies. (I made it 37 hours in and never finished the paper.)

I regretted staying in youth ministry so long. (13 years full time, then back for 18 years where I am after 4 years as a pastor.)

I regretted staying in Kentucky. (I had opportunities to go to Oxford, Mississippi and to Texas, but followed my hillbilly instincts.)

I regretted that so many of my friends were pastors of First Baptist Churches and I never got close. (The cost of not getting that Dr. degree.)

I regretted a bunch of stuff I can’t talk about. (You don’t want to know.)

Sometimes, I’ve honestly regretted staying at one ministry in the mountains of Appalachia for most of two decades. There was a time I was constantly called to do speaking and seminars, but almost from the day I came here those opportunities stopped. Say what you want, when you’re in the mountains of southeast Kentucky, you’re off the radar. It can be very disorienting.

I’ve spent a lot of time- too much- regretting all kinds of aspects of life in ministry. You’d have to be there to understand that struggle, but it’s a hard calling and I’m not ashamed that it was hard for me.

I made a lot of mistakes as a husband and a dad. I’ve spent a lot of time regretting them. (In God’s grace, my marriage and kids are wonderful.)

Recently, I’ve regretted the time I spent as a Calvinist (still struggle with that) and even the entire fact that I wound up in full-time ministry at all. (It wasn’t my fault, but full-time public school teaching combined with ministry as I had opportunity was a better fit. But in the church where I grew up, the only thing they knew to tell us 16 year olds was “be preachers.”)

I regretted the lack of friendships we’ve found wherever we’ve been, seemingly no matter how hard we tried. (Still one of life’s big mysteries and a sad aspect of ministry.)

There have been a lot of regrets involving the church home we never quite found as a family. (Denise and my kids have all found churches. My home is with the homeless.)

I was a tortured soul for many of those years and those regrets poisoned my experience of the goodness of God. If I could have seen it at the time, I would have confessed that I’d made ministry my entire life and set expectations in ministry that would always leave me disappointed.

A good counselor could have shown me the footprints of all this regret, stalking me for many years. I brought childish, self-centered attitudes into adult life, ministry and marriage that constantly tried to prop up my own insecurities and deficiencies with various aspects of success in ministry. I tried to fill up empty places with “success” as a minister. That’s a real wall to hit, and I’ve hit it repeatedly.

Where am I now? I’m at a much different place. I would never claim that I’ve moved beyond the swamp of regret, but I’ve learned some things that are bearing much helpful fruit.

I have never found it satisfying to simply do the Calvinistic thing and talk about God ordaining everything. I need to understand how this has all worked and not worked for me. I can see clearer now, and what I see is that God is helping us to be persons, not success stories. His goal is that we be loved, not well liked- a la Willie Lohman- or well known.

A healthy Christian person must find a place where they can be themselves, and that place won’t be identical to our definition of “success.” Even if we succeed, the experiences that bring make us who we really are won’t be found in the spotlight of success. They will be found in God’s version of our wilderness.

That place may be a nursing home, or a tiny college, or a farm or a forgotten mission to the poor. It may be in another universe from the latest conference or well known ministry. It may have no potential for anything but small acts done with great love. If that is so, you should embrace it as your place. Yours, and a gift to you.

God has placed me in a life where the soil for growing a good and useful spirituality is plentiful. There is the rich soil of community and relationships, and there is the occasional fertilizer of human failures and disappointment. In this soil, I will grow. I will not be an object to be seen and heard. I will be a person, growing into a human image of the God we know in Jesus.

As an older man considering my place, I can see the value in my life of having predictability, schedule, structure and place. I can see why I need some of the simple things that guide and nurture my life that many “successful” pastors never find. These things can’t be found anywhere, but they can be found where I am.

There is a place and time to read the Psalms. There is a place and time to pray. There are people to love and to tell about Jesus. There is good work and comraderie, even if all is not perfect. There is labor and a mutual acceptance of pain. There is help, rejoicing and the grace of seeing the old and leading the young. There is family, time and room to breath. I know see these gifts in ways I did not before. I see them in such a way that many of my previous regrets are unappealing to me.

I do not understand why God has left me in youth and student work so long, but it’s apparent that my passion for and emphasis on Jesus and the Gospel isn’t found very many places in the evangelicalism my students know and experience. I am a communicator, and though I feel some weariness in my bones after preaching and teaching for hours, I am still certain this is why I am in this world and at this place: to communicate Jesus and his Gospel in a time of chaos and static.

It appears that this has been my assignment and the point has not been to have my name on a conference program, but to preach regularly to hundreds of students who don’t know Christ, and to do so in the mountains and to do so for years. My place isn’t telling someone how to do ministry, but to stand in front of kids and actually teach the scriptures. I still feel guilty that I am so old, but I know that I have gifts and opportunities that are rarely found together. So this is my place.

I don’t have to always be happy. I need the love of God not the happiness of men. I can grow to see the two coming together, but not if I dictate how they will both come to me. I have the privilege of embracing a calling and the road that is before me. I am not going to talk about the Kingdom or missional living. I am going to live in the Kingdom and practice missional living.

In all of the time I was having the indigestion of regret, I was also becoming something else: a writer. That was a calling that resonated within me for many years, but it was only here, in this life, that it could happen. I don’t have researchers knocking out books for me. Whatever I manage to write here or in a book will be 100% a result of what God has done in my life.

And along that road I found something else. I will have to, at some point, do interviews and publicity for the book. There’s an aspect to all of that self-presentation and talking like an expert which terrifies me, but in the last few months I’ve begun to realize that I know more about who I am and who I am not than ever before in my life. I have come to understand that a person with a spiritual influence isn’t a face on a screen or ten books on a shelf. I have begun to realize what is going on with men like Brennan Manning and Dallas Willard. They aren’t everywhere because they choose to be where they are and who they are. They have embraced place, personhood and influence without falling into the traps of success.

I can relax and accept that God has been at work in all of this for his glory and my usefulness and joy. I have no regrets unless I want to be God.

In the end, this out of the way corner of the world is the place where I want to be found. When God wants me to go elsewhere, I’ll gladly go, especially if it’s near a ball park, but in the meantime I’m not ashamed or regretful of the path the loving hand of God has given to me.

I am wasting far less of my mind and heart on regret. I’m finding that the wisdom of the spiritual life is not found in evangelical success and notoriety, but in coming to know who I am in the place and calling God has for me. My influence will be no less and no greater, in God’s Kingdom, here in the mountains than it would be anyplace on earth. In the end, it’s my privilege to belong to Christ and to use my gifts as he gives opportunity.

Comments

  1. Dan Allison says:

    From a selfish perspective, Michael, I thank God that you are right where you are, who you are. Your writing is a great comfort to me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  2. Michael, awesome post. And I can’t really tell you how much I needed to hear this. Today. Thanks for being faithful where you’ve been called/placed/plopped.

  3. This is beautiful, Michael. I think many of us are plagued with regrets. Regrets can really wear a person down. I am glad that you are making peace with yourself, your environment, your decisions. God IS using you in ways you may not even know until you come into your full glory with Jesus. Enjoy your life. I don’t think we have to be happy, happy, joy, joy all the time but if there is not some sense of an inner peace, then we need to wonder about things a little bit. Peace to you and yours.

  4. Can there be repentance, honest soul searching repentance, with out regret? If you can bottle that you will have something.
    As we are sculpted by God it is interesting to see how He uses the flaws in the base material to make a unique creation. You would not be the communicator you have become were it not for the things you regret and the pain the regret has cost. How a loving God uses us and even our mistakes to minister to His people is a true mystery of love.
    Romans 8: 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. All things.
    That is not Calvinism, it is Mercy and Grace.
    Thanks for communicating so much, it means a lot to me.

  5. Michael, do you regret the years you have spent becoming Internet Monk? Many people might never have heard you as a conference speaker, but they have the opportunity to interact with you every day. I, for one, have been blessed to share in your journey. Thank you.

  6. Christiane says:

    Michael, there was a little nun who died at the age of twenty-four.
    After her death, her superiors found her journal. They sent it to the Vatican. When they read it, they were amazed. This little nun’s writing was filled with such a great love for Christ, and so beautifully written it was, that it increased the faith of those who read it.
    She followed what she called ‘the little way’.

    Sometimes, it is those who take ‘the road less traveled’ that will make the greater difference in the Kingdom.

    And that little nun dead at so young an age? St. Therese of Lisieux?
    She is now honored as one of the ‘Doctors of the Church’.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      With one moment of Epic Fail with the first publication/release of her journal. Apparently in the first edition, her order and/or superiors had “edited” (Bowdlerized) the journal to make her more conventionally Pious (as befits a sweet little nun). After the Bowdlerization, Therese was nothing more than another Pious Plaster Saint Statue, thoroughly “Twee” and Church Lady sentimental.

      It wasn’t until the UNEDITED version of her journal came out that she made her splash and became a Doctor of the Church.

      As I understand it, St Therese’s “little way” has to do with holiness in everyday routine and everyday situations; the situation I heard cited is when your job teams you up with someone (say in the next cubicle) who drives you up the walls.

      • Christiane says:

        It was her sister who found Therese’s writings AFTER Therese died. I don’t know about the ”editing’ but I am certain that Therese is ‘over-sentimentalized’ by some, my own god-mother for one.
        However, Therese is a Catholic role model for people that live their lives in service to others without thought for their own advancement in this world.

      • Headless, I agree about the version of Therese’s autobiography in the usual English translation; the responsibility for that lies with the usual 19th century treacly “let’s make this edifying” impulse, though I should stop bashing the 19th century since our own is just as bad.

        The few self-help books I’ve ever flipped through in morbid curiosity drive me up the wall, because they have the same structure; they generally start out with “”Wouldn’t you like to be happier?”, then gives few anodyne rules, distilled from amazing principle discovered by author (e.g. if you want to be happier, maybe not being a raging pain in the neck could work better!), broken down by chapter and illustrated by heart-warming anecdotes, along the lines of “Joe was a successful businessman, with a beautiful wife, two smart kids, a dog, a cat and five Ferraris in his garage. Joe seemed to have it all, but beneath the life of luxury and contentment, he was not as contented as he felt he should be. His home life was not as calm and nuturing as he felt he neeed, and his business life was constantly stressed with all the lawsuits brought against him by former employees, customers, and business partners for no reason at all. Then one night, when he stopped for a drink in his favourite bar, Joe met his old college friend Dan who seemed amazingly happy. Yet how could this be? The last time Joe saw Dan, he’d been a homeless alcoholic eating out of rubbish bins. Dan listened as Joe poured out all his troubles, then gave him this one simple rule: “Joe, your home and business life could be improved overnight if you just follow this one simple rule: when you get angry, instead of lunging for that aggravating employee/customer/business partner with a bayonet like you usually do, instead try just taking a deep breath and counting to ten!” This seemed too good to be true and too simple to work, but Joe thought he might as well try it anyway – what had he got to lose? So by following Dan’s advice the next time some incompetent idiot annoyed him beyond all reason, Joe was astounded to find his potential victim had time to flee instead of being grievously injured, and this meant no more visits from the police, bail hearings, and bothersome lawsuits!

        By applying this simple rule in *your* life, imagine how much calmer and more content you could be!”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Headless, I agree about the version of Therese’s autobiography in the usual English translation; the responsibility for that lies with the usual 19th century treacly “let’s make this edifying” impulse…

          Were you the one who some months ago cited a link to some sort of Irish “child saint” folk cult/folk hagiography dating from around that time? I remember going into a diabetic coma just from reading the first couple paragraphs.

          These days, whenever I encounter the “19th century treacly “let’s make this edifying” impulse”, I counter it with a dose of Deadwood. Because Deadwood was also the 19th Century — coincidentally, not too far in time and place from all those Christian Prairie/Bonnet Romances you see on the shelves. Just like a young Stephen King wanted to see what a crossover between those Disney films and Asphalt Jungle-style B-movies in his hometown’s two theaters would have been like, I’d like to see what would ensue if you dropped all these Christian Bonnet Romance heroes & heroines into the REAL 19th Century frontier, AKA Al Swearingen’s Deadwood.

  7. thank you, michael. i had moments of profound regret this very day, many of which are parallel or akin to the ones you shared here. the education thing. the church thing (oh my). i’m glad you are finding more contentment as time goes by. please know that your journey has been a genuine help to me, and your words today give me hope that a sense of place as well as a more definitive calling may emerge in a fuller way for me as well.

  8. Thanks. Thanks, thanks, thanks. I turn 24 later this month, so I guess that makes me young-ish, but I just really needed this. Thanks.

  9. Monk,

    I can identify with many of the things that you talk about in one way or another. I started last year determined that I was done being a victim of my own regrets, there is a bit of irony in the fact that sometimes living a life of no regrets entitles you to at least a few unwise choices. (consequently some that you regret) But over all I decided to be a wild man, to make the choices that I thought were right and not really wait on GOD to make the choices for me. I was tired of beating myself up for choices I made in the past when… at the time they seemed like the right thing to do. What I finally realized was that “all things work together for the good of those who love and serve God” is not a “comfort” passage, but a declaration of freedom. Our God is a God who’s will can encompass every choice we make and turn it for our good… and we can stumble and flail and generally take a wildly meandering path and still accomplish his will… So these days when I make my choices… I make em with the gusto of a pirate! No second guessing, no wish washin, just good ole manly choice makin! and then I own my choices… if there’s consequences I embrace em like my long lost brother! I make these things mine because I have finally realized! These are the things that make my life great!

    to a life of no regrets!

  10. Thank you for sharing “my” journey. I feel I could write a book on “1001 ways how not to follow God”. And there are times my regrets of these are overwhelming. As Peterson says we must learn to embrace the (present) place, people, position, etc God has given us – just as he has given to us and learn to see and hear the God dimensions in each one of them – for this is the life of faith. I know this intellectually but so often find myself wasting time and energy I could be investing in the sacrament of the present moment, of the kingdom of God breaking in here and now, rather than wasting it on ruminating over past failures and missed opportunities.

    The place, people, position, purpose,etc. God gives us each day is his will for us. It is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who keeps bringing up the past. You are right in that the size of someones perceived importance of these things doesn’t matter to God, only faith expressing itself through love. We can learn from the widow and her mite when it comes to these things such as these as well.

  11. I regret not dating in College, though I wanted to. Likewise, I regret fearing not doing relationships the “godly way” in high school. For if I had simply made a few mistakes early on, I would’ve had the courage to risk in college.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “The Godly Way” means you either die a virgin or buy a Quiverfull Wifey from her father/owner. As IMonk mentioned in an essay four years ago, the Christian Courtship movement would not be out of place in Medieval Islam.

      And the “Jesus IS My Boyfriend/Jesus IS My Edward Cullen” attitude of Christian females doing their own “Godly Way” sure doesn’t help.

      • Nor do Christian guys who takes a girl to “Lover’s hallway” for a handshake and a prayer. (This happened to me when I was either a junior or senior in college.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Nor do Christian guys who takes a girl to “Lover’s hallway” for a handshake and a prayer.

          I am not familiar with the reference, Anna.

          • Just an accurate discription of where the couples said “Good bye” in the dorm. I went to a small Baptist School for college. When I started we women had strict hours.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “Handshake and a prayer” does NOT sound like the type of goodbye I’d want, whether to give or receive. Back when I had a girlfriend (Ann in the Eighties; I still wish things had worked out between us), I’d want to close our time together with an embrace and kiss.

      • “Jesus is my Boyfriend” thing really smarts me too.

        I wonder if Christian girls realize that really, REALLY, alienates guys. There are reasons why there aren’t many evangelical men these days. That kind of spiritual approach is one of them.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Oh, it gets better. Back in the Eighties when I was still listening to CCM off-and-on, there was this one Christian “love song” by some female vocalist whose chorus gushed about how:

          “Because JESUS is Number One in my life,
          You’ll always be my Number Two!”

      • You could well be right Headless Unicorn Guy. Courtship and quiverfull teachings are the two barrels in the homiletic shotgun some pastors love using to call for shotgun marriages. I don’t find it so mysterious that evangelicals can get on fads like this and then have, so they say, higher divorce rates than non-Christians. It could be the non-Christians have been taught more realistic descriptions of how and why people get married and stay married.

        One of my biggest regrets was being around so many advocates of courtship and quiverfull teaching over the last ten years. How I managed to do this in a coastal urban center in Washington state I still don’t fully understand.

        My admittedly very cynical assessment of the men I have met who promoted courtship is to observe that two kinds of fathers found the teaching appealing:

        1) the father who is not so secretly afraid his little girls may grow up to date the kind of fornicating rabble-rouser he was in his teens. For this dad courtship is a teaching that allows him to just say no pre-emptively to any of the boys (or, God forbid, girls) his little girl may be interested in dating. Maybe he can add a shotgun and think that provides more menace.

        2) the father who has been inattentive to the lives of his daughters while building a legacy for himself through career or church, and sees courtship as a retroactive veto power on whomever his daughter has already been dating while he wasn’t paying attention. All he has to do, again, is just say no. It also absolves him of having not actually paid attention to his daughter’s life.

        These are the kinds of dads who think it is primarily the dad’s responsibility and power. My skepticism about this is partly personal, being an older brother. When my younger sister finally brought home a boyfriend who was not a total loser I not only told her so, I told him so pretty soon after she brought him by for a visit. He’s been my brother-in-law for more than ten years. Evangelical dads who think they are the first and last line of defense for their daughters are generally overcompensating and their daughters and sons deserve better than that.

  12. Thanks for writing this – i struggle with maybe not regret so much as the paralysis of indecision. And a lot of the regrets you mention. God is really working to bring me freedom (this article is just one of many little letters He’s sent me lately saying “yes, this really is what i want for you!”… and i don’t want to regret not acting when i hear His voice…
    Thanks for the encouragement!

  13. There’s a strange irony to your encouraging words. My wife will vouch for me that of all the “celebrity” Christian leaders and preachers I listen to on my iPod in the car and mistakenly compare myself to, the person whose job i most envy happens to be the backwoods, hillbilly from Kentucky who gets to teach the Bible to a classroom of high school students and walk them through Mere Christianity every fall. What a gig!

    Michael, when God releases me from my current youth ministry role within the church, I hope to find a Christian school like yours where I can engage teenagers in a more academic, classroom environment. Let me know when you’re ready to retire and I’ll put in my application.

    Cheers, brother.

  14. Michael-

    thank you.

  15. Thanks for modelling what contentment looks like for us young whippersnappers. I feel our celebrity leaders have failed to teach us what true ministry is like or should be. They lead a life that most of us ought not to imitate. Not because it is sinful, but because most of us will never have what they do and to desire it would be sinful and frustrating. We are better I think to look for examples and mentoring from ministers we come in contact with daily (formation through the local or geographical area church) than by immersing ourselves in the podcast/blogosphere trying to learn from strangers we will never know personally. Your blogging is different. It more often than not encourages me to get off the internet and experience the Gospel in real life through community. Keep it up. You are “shepherding” far more people than most ever could as a pastor.

  16. “I can relax and accept that God has been at work in all of this for his glory and my usefulness and joy. I have no regrets unless I want to be God.”

    Interesting that you come to this as an ex-Calvinist, when it would seem like the very sentiment that Calvinism (and dare I say “Christian Hedonism”) should produce…..when thoroughly “Jesus-shaped,” at least, as it has been for me so far.

    I thank God for all perspectives and experiences that lead to true rest and joy in Him.

    • The difference being that no matter where one lands on the theological spectrum, a man has to know and walk with Jesus intimately and personally for a long time, usually with much struggle, before a statement like that becomes true in his life.

      At least this is what I hear from the older and wiser, holier and more loving people that I know personally. I hope to walk that path.

    • I think if you were to ask Michael, you would find his actual theological beliefs quite close to what we know as Calvinism. What he has rejected is the growling, barking, butt sniffing and territory marking that all too often comes with the label.

    • Sean,

      I find Calvinism to have a much bigger sovereign God than it does a central mediating Christ. It was seeing the difference in Lutheranism and Calvinism on the centrality of Jesus that has most influenced me recently. Calvinism is about the decrees of God in which Jesus is an executive. Luther, it seems to me, kept Christ at the center and avoiding pursuing questions of God’s sovereignty which Calvinists like Piper can’t stop fixating on.

      peace

      ms

      • Huh. Thanks for responding.

        As a young guy I was initially (and still am) attracted to Piper and a few others in that camp precisely because of the way they talked about Jesus. It was different speech than I was used to hearing in my campus-ministry upbringing. It was strong, passionate, emotive, life-or-death urgency, glorious, merciful, redemptive.

        From my view those in that camp can tend to go wrong when they talk about *everything* like that…. the decrees of God, election, etc.

        I love when Jesus is talked about like Jesus should be, and try not to get sucked in when other stuff is talked about like Jesus should be.

  17. Thanks for sharing your experiences with God, it definitely helps us the younger generation. It’s funny how I wrote something similar recently about not falling into the trap of “success” as it is defined by most of our society. Thanks again.

  18. This post is timely for me. I am finishing my PhD (not all it’s cracked up to be, by the way) and trying to decide between two different job opportunities… one will “make my career” (and possibly kill my young family) and the other would be a “bad career move” (and let my family life flourish). My kids are young (8, 5, and 4) and need an active Daddy for at least 15 more years. If I give that to them, then my research career will be lost (according to the experts in my field.) I’ve put in almost 5 years of long hours to complete my training, and the pressure to use it 90 hours a week for the next 15 years is immense. “Publish or perish” has such an eschatological ring to it! I’ve already missed so much of their collective childhoods that I am filled with regret for the past and, to a certain degree, for the future. My wife is longsuffering (to say the very least) and will support whichever option I pursue… more money to retire student loans vs. more time to enjoy the wonder years (both are valuable commodities around our house, and beggars can’t be choosers!) Regret and confusion are starting to cloud my soul…

    Then I think about how God is totally Other. He is not from the left or the right, but from above. He is not weak, but strong. He routinely uses broken people instead of nice people. Ephesians 3:20 and II Corinthians 12:9-10 ring back and forth like twin gongs in my head. “He can do more than I can even imagine” (I have a vivid imagination). “His power is made perfect in my weakness” (I am so very, very weak). I can see him fixing our situation whether I screw it up the one way or the other. I can also hear him telling me “aren’t you glad that you are not in control?” I still hope he closes one of the doors so I don’t have to choose. Neither of the places have a church in our denomination, so we would be stretched into another Christian tradition either way. I am starting to think that he is messing with me, and I think I should be glad about this, but I often don’t feel that way.

    I don’t know what any of this means other than to say that your mess of a Web Site is so very encouraging to me because it is not linear, smells weirdly organic, and does not behave according to any of my best predictions. Just like life in God’s kingdom. Family over formula. Small sticks moving big rocks. Jesus, take the wheel.

    I’d like to send a “Thank You” card to the person who installed the data wire to your house. I bet that guy was filled with regrets as well and probably had no idea what God was about to do when the juice came on…

    • I can totally relate to this situation. After finishing my PhD a couple of years, I came to work in a small college with no graduate program. This means less opportunity to do research, which is what PhDs are trained to do (at least in Computer Science). At the same time, less brilliant colleagues have gone on working in large universities, kicking off budding research careers. Admittedly, here I’m in a more relaxed situation, and have more time for my family and other stuff besides work. On the other hand, I still wonder if this is where God wants me to be of if I’m simply wasting whatever gifts He gave me…

    • Hey Joel,

      For what it’s worth, I made the choice early in life to just be another peon (in IT) and fight for family time. Now, I have two grown daughters who adore me. And who turned out pretty well, too– both at the top of their classes, one going into medical school next fall. My wife of 27 years still loves me, and God has blessed us with enough to live comfortably. I even got to write a book, 20 years after getting my degree. So, there are amazing, if unheralded, payoffs from choosing to invest yourself in your family from an early time.

      On the other hand, I never got to be a famous Christian rock musician, and now I’m too bald and arthritic to ever achieve that! (Living in Podunk, NM, doesn’t enhance such careers…) But would I trade the other for some career or public success? No. And God has a way of surprising us with unexpected opportunites later.

      Just my 49-year-old perspective, for what it’s worth.

      Blessings be upon ye…

    • Joel,
      It is one of my favorite things to do…tell God what you want ideally. Tell Him exactly how you would love to spend the next 15 years of your life….your heart’s desire, and then watch Him work it out for you. One of my favorite Bible teachers said over and over again…”It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the desires of your heart.” Even our secret desires, perhaps even especially the secret desires. I find myself constantly limiting the good outcomes by having narrow vision, and by getting in the way, trying to do God’s work for Him. I would encourage you to think of our God’s supernatural abilities…in Him there is no lack or limitations. Those only exist in us.
      I pray, Joel, that God would open windows and doors you never even thought of, that you would be excited as a child on Christmas morning wondering what miraculous things God will bring before you next.

  19. Thank you Michael for those words.
    Thank you for reminding me so lovingly and openly that (even) you struggle with it.
    I will use your testimony as a reminder to deal with it and keep going with today’s calling.
    Thank you.

  20. Michael,
    I am glad you are more at peace with your past, finding more contentment in your present while knowing your future is secure in Christ. He is faithful.
    As one of the wise ones used to say, “God writes straight with crooked lines”.

  21. That Other Jean says:

    Well done, Michael! You instruct, inspire, and encourage so many more people than the students in your classrooms. Thank you for letting us share your struggles.

  22. Michael:

    Your post resonated with me like the twin tines of a tuning fork. For the past uncounted months I’ve been reflecting on my life and examining my steps along the path that brought me to where I am now – which is nowhere near where I dreamed I would someday be. The “delusions of grandeur” of youth too often linger far beyond their usefulness.

    Though my 60th birthday is still a couple of months away, I seem to have prematurely slipped into Erikson’s last stage of psychosocial development: integrity vs despair. It is ironically one of the more difficult – if not the most difficult – challenges of faith I’ve yet endured. Looking over my shoulder and believing that my choices somehow rightly led me to where I am today – counseling people in relative anonymity and invisibility – is at times hard to accept. I thought I would be able to do more for God. A narcissistic thought, to be sure, but genuine and heartfelt for the length of my Christian life.

    I know, however, that despair is a foolish choice for a believer: despair is the absence of hope, a commodity we actually possess in abundance in the Person of our Savior. Still, there are times when my view of him blurs as I look back on the past through the moistened eyes of sadness.

    Your post was comforting. As always, it is good to know that we are not unique in our struggles, only in the outcomes thereof. Our paths might never have crossed had you made different choices. For my part, the crossing is marked by rare moments of meaning and understanding.

    Thank you.

  23. I think sometimes we don’t know what we want until it’s ‘too late.’ To use a cliche, hindsight is 20/20. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life at 18, but it certainly seemed more fun to hang out with friends and party than going to school. I finally went to college, but could only go part time due to new financial commitments. When I finally got my BA, I ended up not ever using it professionally. For the last 5 years, I’ve been just working a decent paying job with absolutely no passion…. I now think I know what I want to do and am going back for a Masters’… My major regret is I wish I had direction and understanding of what I wanted from a life and career 10-12 years ago!

    But I’m restless. And I know that even if my schooling is successful and I end of loving what I’m doing, I won’t be satisfied…

    And I know someone will come along and tell me, satisfaction is found in Jesus, but I think after 9 years of following Him, I still don’t know how to experience that.

    • Kenny,

      Some food for thought. Have you considered that one of the driving factors for pioneers and missionaries is a restless spirit.

      I’ve always thought of myself as a homebody, but realize now that I like to live different places, to move, etc.

  24. Rob Grayson says:

    A wonderful post… thank you.

  25. Michael, this was a blessing to read. I’m fond of telling people not to compare their places at the moment with others because we don’t know how they got to where they are and we might not actually care to have experienced the fire and the fury that God used to get them to there.

    That said, I’m going to pass on the link to your entry. Heck, I’m 36, NOT in paid ministry, and have daily moments of regret.

    Thank you for sharing this window to your heart and for doing what you do.

    I’d meet you at a ball game, but you like the Reds. 🙂 At least you’re not a part of Red Sox nation. 😉

  26. It seems as we grow older we can have lots of regrets. When I was younger the world was so open, so many possibilities – yet even then I had regrets- whether they be in a decision I made, an action I did, some interaction I had with someone. It would haunt me a lot, to a point where I actually felt pain in my belly. As I got older it was regretting the lack of progress in my career, my interaction with wife and family, how my words may have hurt someone I love.

    My wife has been a great influence in this area. Somewhow she convinced me that it may all have been part of God’s plan – this path I am taking, and that I am affecting people in a positive way by taking this path, in ways I may never know. Yes, my sphere of influence is smaller, but in some ways may be more profound. Of course this thinking doesn’t let me off the hook for those things I regretted, but I am not fretting over them now – rather I use them as a wake-up call -especially if those regrets involved hurting anothers feelings – so that I can be aware and improve if possible. I can really relate to this post.

  27. Dude – yes. I still periodically froth with regret over a stupid, cruel breakup at age 15. I pray nightly for God to deliver me from my chosen career as a physician, so that my 13-year-old won’t tell me I’m like a dad who’s away on a business trip all week, and she sees me one day.
    And friends – my wife and I have lived here in a small city for 11 years, and have made exactly zero close friends. We’re counting down till the 13-year-old graduates and we can move away.
    I’m there, minus the serenity.

    • I pray for you, Kozak, as being lonely in a small city/town can be a very sad experience. We talk about Christian community, but how real is that even in most churches?

  28. Blessings on you for your honesty and for teaching us a timely message. As I age I actually have less regrets as I see some things more clearly than I did as a younger person, and I can relate to a lot of what you bring up, especially the “lack of friendships… a sad aspect of ministry.” It’s been a struggle for us, too, yet I’ve always had a nagging feeling that God was trying to teach me through this.

    Thank you for reminding me that God places us in a specific ministry despite others’ judgment about its validity or popularity.

  29. very very refreshing. Odd, I was just thinking that very thing about Brennan Manning last night and scribbled down a note here in front of me about it. Jesus has you where he wants you Michael and we are blessed for it.

  30. Expectations die hard, why do we so often want the thing we can’t have. We have this Ideal in mind and pursue it, that some day it shall arrive, along the way we were living the dream all along but never aware of our surroundings. The children God has given, or the spouse we have been called to love, somehow we have been programmed to aim at the Pastor/Priest ideal, when I became Catholic it was like the death of my dream. Layman, even the word makes me still squirm, great post, I was encouraged.
    I’m full of it, It’s coming around the corner I know it, perhaps I need to hit my 50th before I except my life as it is? it seems that we have our vision and then their is God, pushing , nudging us to go places, like eternity in youth ministry, we never wanted to go. Just think of Hosea before we complain, Often by the time were ready for our youthful dreams we are old and tired, even content, ironically that is when the dreams comes to fulfillment. I laugh in the face of disappointment, if I didn’t I would never stop crying.

  31. Michael, you mention regretting time spent in Calvinism.

    But why? What could be regrettable about ” a singing, poetry-writing, run-through-the-fields Calvinism”?

    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2008/2791_How_A_Roman_Catholic_AntiCalvinist_Can_Serve_Todays_PoetCalvinists/

    Sorry, nothing against John Piper (don’t even know the man), it’s just the notion of happy-clappy Calvinists tra-la-laing with lutes in hands as they frolick through flowery meads has me giggling like a loon 😉

    • I really admire what Dr. Piper is trying to do there, and there are Calvinisms that are better than others in regard to what he’s putting putting forward. My problem with Calvinism is partly theological- the train wreck of limited atonement and sovereignty as the highest value in the Gospel- and mostly personal, i.e. my experiences with some Calvinists are painful enough to make me want to convert to Taoism.

      • That was flippant of me, but I have to say, when I think of Calvinism, I don’t think of mystagogues gazing starry-eyed at the beauties of nature, but more along the lines of “There’ll be no butter in hell!”

        Good post of yours: at this stage of life, most of us are coming to the realisation that the person we are is the person we’ve made ourselves (and probably screaming and running away from the mirror when that realisation hits us).

        Nothing left to do but cling to the mercy of God. And be grateful for the experiences, both good and bad, we’ve had.

  32. Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 – a fitting thought for your excellent post.

  33. I hope you don’t regret your choice of internet pseudonymous, imonk. Its about as good as they come.

    Thank you for the post; way to not give up.

  34. No honest pastor with two days in the ministry doesn’t have something to regret. I don’t know what success is, if it isn’t preaching the gospel.

  35. “It may have no potential for anything but small acts done with great love. If that is so, you should embrace it as your place. Yours, and a gift to you.”

    Thank you for that statement. You would not believe how it pulled me out of the doldrums I’ve been in this past three weeks.

  36. Imonk.

    I see so many self-promoted apostles that are not called to the ministry but go anyway. For you I see an apostle who has been called.

    Thanks for a wonderful post.

  37. iMonk.
    This is your calling as you wrote:

    I am a communicator, and though I feel some weariness in my bones after preaching and teaching for hours, I am still certain this is why I am in this world and at this place: to communicate Jesus and his Gospel in a time of chaos and static.

    And I thank God for that memorable day he lead me to your website.
    Keep preaching the Gospel and God bless you!

  38. Michael, this stuff is tonic to the soul. Thank you.

  39. C. A. Johnson says:

    Michael,

    You are in the right place. You reach more people than you know with your web site. I have been helped tremendously by your thoughts posted here.

  40. Thanks Michael. I think this is a post I’ll be reading again soon and then re-reading not long after that. I am a young minister, but I’m not without doubts about choices I’ve made in the past. Thank you so much for your Jesus-focused encouragement.

  41. C.D. Helmuth says:

    Southeast KY….off the radar? What the……..?? As far as I’m concerned, not only does KY put you ON the radar but near the center of the universe!

    Blessings

  42. Boy, you nailed this one. I am several years older than you and I have had those feelings. God’s grace becomes all the more crucial for living day to day. As our former bishop, Woodie White, used to say, “God is good all the time; and all the time God is good.” Amen.

  43. Michael–
    When you face the oddness of self-publicity and promotion while talking about a life that does not require publicity or acclaim–and I’m sure the irony isn’t lost on you–you could do a great deal worse than to look to a fellow Kentuckian, Wendell Berry, for something of a model. Berry has literally focused on his plot of allotted ground and still reached a wide world very powerfully.
    Thanks for your continuous challenging thoughts.
    –Mark

  44. Todd Erickson says:

    I have found that, in light of perspective, while I could gladly go back and throttle myself at times, I wouldn’t be who I am now had I not been who I was.

    But.

    I struggle constantly with how being a part of Christianity seems to mean that I must continually live in a state of loneliness and lack of communication. Why does life have to be so empty? is it all just an element to drive me back to God?

    I don’t want to be a monk, but there doesn’t seem to be any alternative. To be a Christian, and to think, means to be too uncomfortable a person for most people to want to spend time with.

  45. Hi Michael

    Have been away from reading imonk for a few weeks because of – you guessed it – regret. The impact of regret on my life has caused me to avoid anything to do with God, church, christanity. Would like to blame some or all of those for my regret though I know the issue lies with me.

    Thanks for the post. It has helped immensely in dragging myself out of the despair pit. After being in the darkness of that pit it will take my eyes a while to adjust to the light.

    Your writing continues to echo the voice of the divine (take that however you want to)

    Regards

    Adrian

  46. I’d be interested in hearing the problems with being a Calvinist sometime.