“Action regrets taste bad, but inaction regrets leave a bad taste that lasts a lifetime.” Mark Batterson from In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day
Have you ever said or done something and almost immediately wish you hadn’t? I experienced one of those regret moments last week when meeting with a young man from our Church for a few hours to play baseball, he wanted to ride his bike over to the park and not having a bike of my own I borrowed his mothers. Now it had been years since I had ridden a bike and my feet could barely touch the pedals since his mother was taller than me, so lets just say I wasn’t particularly graceful or full of confidence trying to ride that bicycle. Of course he noticed that I was struggling and found that hysterical proceeding to show off his riding skills while all my concentration was on simply staying upright. Needless to say next time we will probably walk to the park.
These experiences fill our hearts with emotions like humiliation, discouragement, or anger and are normally referred to as regret. The normal response to this feeling of regret is to make sure we never encounter them again (walk to the park instead of riding a bike), or to keep others from finding out just how embarrassed we are. This is actually a natural response (who wants a ten-year old mocking your bike riding skills?) But if we allow it to control our life these emotions will actually result in deeper remorse or regret.
Mark Batterson in his book In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day explains that there are different types of regret in life. There is an action regret like the one I experienced last week, and then there is an inaction regret which comes from not doing something we know is God’s Will. This is usually because of fear, a high level of failure, possibility of being humiliated, or extreme difficulty.
What’s interesting is that we focus on avoiding the humiliation or discouragement from action regret, but Batterson points out its the inaction regrets that have the deepest impact upon our life. This is proved using a scientific study of individuals who in the normal week regret what they have done (action regret) over what they haven’t (inaction regret) 57% to 43%, but in later years as they grow older regret what they haven’t done more than what they have 84% to 16%.
The belief that inaction regret is stronger than action regret is backed up by our own experiences as well. I was a bit embarrassed about not being able to ride the bike like I used to but that was a short-lived emotion…two hours later I wasn’t depressed or discouraged over it. However I still regret dating a young woman during college even though I knew we weren’t meant for one another and breaking her heart in the process more than ten years ago. You will experience regret, the question is, “What kind of regret will we endure?” The one that lasts a few hours or at most a couple of days, or the kind that affects your decision-making years later?
The sad thing is we often allow the short-term regret that comes from humiliation or failure to keep us from doing God’s Will for our lives. Satan loves to turn our regret into shame that keeps us from attempting anything which included a step of faith ever again. But what we don’t realize is by avoiding the temporary action shame we are setting ourselves up to experience a greater inaction shame later in life.
In other words, embarrassing myself on a bike is worth it if I am able to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a boy who doesn’t know him, and needs a strong male role model.