But this I admit to you, that according to the Way [Christianity] which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men (Acts 24:14-16, NASB).
This has always been a personal goal: to live my life without regrets. There are definitely decisions that I’ve made during my life that weren’t the best in hindsight. And I’d call “bollocks (i.e. nonsense)” on anyone who suggests that they’ve never made a poor decision during theirs. Yet, I’ve been fortunate. I carry few regrets—at least, based on how I define regret.
Dictionary.com defines regret as “a feeling of sorrow or remorse for a fault, act, loss, disappointment, etc.” I don’t like this definition, because I’m not sure that many people actually use the word accordingly. It includes circumstances of which we may not be in control. With its definition of regret, I could say that “The current state of our nation’s economy fills me with regret,” even if my actions had nothing to do with the economy’s current state. The nation’s economy may leave me with a sense of disappointment—maybe even melancholy—but not regret.
As I define it, there are three conditions that must exist for me to exhibit regret. It must:
- be something that I caused through a personal decision. This could be a decision to take a certain action when it was an inappropriate action, or take no action where one was wise and warranted, and…
- involve intentional disregard of any pertinent and available information when making my decision.
- [after the knowingly poor decision and its corresponding action] involve an unwillingness to correct the circumstance which I caused (i.e. being unrepentant)—failing, as much as it depends on me (especially when my actions affect others), to restore peace (Romans 12:18).
In other words, I see regrets as emotional outcomes that arise from decisions to actively behave unwisely. Regret is the remorseful anxiety that pervades our being until (hopefully) we take action to remedy the situation (that we created) with a repentant heart; reestablishing peace (as much as it depends upon us). Therefore, I consider living with regrets to be unhealthy, because we’re capable of living without them—perfection isn’t necessary.
Regrets needn’t be permanent, for there are two ways to rid ourselves of them. We can:
- be repentant for our transgressions against others, and offer an appropriate restitution; seeking peace with those who we’ve wronged.
- exercise forgiveness to the those who’ve wronged us when they’re repentant.
Some may wonder why I believe that it’s necessary to forgive others to rid ourselves of regret. My rationale is based on my Christian belief that we’re only forgiven of our transgressions as much as we’re willing to forgive others (Matthew 5:23-24; 6:14-15; 18:21-22; Luke 6:37; 17:3-4; 1 Corinthians 13:4-6; Colossians 3:13)
Forgiveness is a good thing, and over the years I’ve become a more forgiving person. Here’s my problem. While I’m good at being accountable for my actions towards others, I’ve become much too forgiving towards my own self-afflictions; too often adopting the perspective that I’m only hurting myself. This is faulty logic for any Christian. To understand how our behavior lines up with Christian teaching, we only need to evaluate it against the greatest commandment of (paraphrased) “Loving God and loving others” (Mark 12:30-31); making sure that we’re using a Christian—and not secular definition—for love.
When using the greatest commandment for evaluation, the error of my self-neglect is obvious. First, as God’s creation, I’m a steward for that which He has given. I believe that neglecting our bodies—whether the neglect is of a mental, emotional, or spiritual nature—is a disservice to our Lord. We’re not just harming ourselves, we’re also failing to show proper service of worship to God:
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).
Second, building from the idea that to neglect oneself is failing to show proper “spiritual service of worship to God,” I’m also limiting my ability to function as Christ’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Christ reconciles the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19); and, we’re called to be reconciled with God (2 Cor 5:20). Our obedience matters (John 14:21). And being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9), we should always strive to be our best; doing “what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). When we’re not striving to be our best by progressing down the path of sanctification, we’re incapable of being our best version to others. Therefore, we’re not effectively loving others as we’re capable and called to do. With faith, we must walk in the Spirit, and be disciplined and obedient individually; improving our ability to love others:
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:13-26, NASB).
Self-neglect can manifest itself in our lives in many ways. We can:
- pray less
- satisfy the flesh (e.g. gluttony, lust, excessive comfort)
- lie for personal gain
- fail to properly rest our bodies (e.g. “burning the candle at both ends”)
- fail to maintain our bodies (e.g. diet and exercise)
- live with imbalanced priorities
The above list is but a sampling of ways we can neglect ourselves. For me, I most often struggle with not taking care of myself by burning the candle at both ends (i.e. insufficient rest) and not providing my body proper nutrition (i.e. unhealthy meals and irregular meal times). While it may not necessarily be visibly evident to others, my poor nutrition and lack of sleep are affecting me significantly. For one thing, it affects my prayer life. Therefore, it affects my relationship with Christ, and my ability to serve as His ambassador.
Too often, I yo-yo between extremes (e.g. a highly restricted diet, intense workout regimens, all-nighters to develop my dissertation). I allow small neglects to develop into large issues, being inconsistent in disciplining myself. There are times when:
- I’ll regularly maintain a daily office, but then lapse into periods where I’m saying as little as three minutes of prayer before falling asleep
- I’m praying about others way more than I’m praying for myself, then lapse; finding that I’m barely praying for anyone but me.
- I’m immersed in the Word; growing in Wisdom, and then I’ll lapse into times when I’ll forget to read His Word without seeking to hear anything but His voice.
- I’ll fast, and then stay on a decent, reasonably nutritious diet. Though, I eventually retreat back into sugars, fats, and carbs.
This imbalance can also be seen within our more secular activities. For me, it often does. As an example: If I should be working on a project, and an opportunity of lesser importance arises, the project work is often postponed until the morning’s wee hours. Usually I’m unable to sleep-in when these scenarios occur; sacrificing rest. And sometimes, I’ll procrastinate where I must forego sleep altogether!
Until recently, I thought (from my flawed perspective) that I could “get away with it,” with “it” only affecting me (as I saw it). I commonly treated these instances of self-neglect as noble sacrifice.
I’m now, however, beginning to regret such behavior. Therefore, these behaviors much change. My self-neglect must end.
Some people adopt new year’s resolutions that follow SMART goal criteria: goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. While I generally value the SMART goal approach, I find that SMART goals seem to encourage me to yo-yo when I apply them as resolutions. Way too often, as soon as I meet my personal SMART goal (i.e. new year’s resolution), I revert back to my previous behavioral norms.
Therefore, I decided—years ago—that I would focus on a relevant theme throughout the course of a given year, rather than adopt a definitive resolution. A thematic resolution, if chosen wisely, helps eliminate “loop-holes” for avoiding true change, as the focus becomes the spirit of the resolution instead of its literal definition. Many times, since I’ve adopted the concept of thematic resolutions, I’ve seen positive and permanent behavioral changes. Many of these positive changes weren’t even those being sought when I’d made the thematic resolution!
This year, my thematic resolution is personal accountability (to self). While I’m quite intentional in maintaining integrity with others, I can become lazy in my own discipline (i.e. eat poorly, procrastinate, etc). When I was a youth, I was actually better about self-discipline—probably because I truly wanted to be a professional athlete. Also, I think that society has made it much easier to lack self-discipline. For one thing, there are so many more opportunities to be distracted (cell phones, internet, social networks, etc), and lose focus on those things that should be priorities. For another thing—and in some ways tied to the echo chamber nature of our technological advances—our cultural norms have (unfortunately) become much less focused on being accountable and taking responsibility for our actions than they were previously.
Will I stick to my thematic resolution? Given that I’m single and don’t regularly have others around me to keep me accountable to it, it’ll depend on whether I take personal accountability for my own well-being 😛
Yes, determining this year’s thematic resolution was pretty easy 😛
All joking aside, I place great emphasis on maintaining a clear conscience and growing my relationship with Christ. I intend to better follow Him, while reflecting upon my thematic resolution throughout this new year.
What about you?