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“Have you ever done something that you regretted?” a lady said to me some time ago. Of course, I responded that I had done, or in some cases, not done, things that had caused me a great deal of regret. I don’t talk about those instances very much because there is little value in asking “what if” all the days of one’s life. For one thing, there are no “do-overs” and for another we can only compound our regrets by dwelling endlessly on lost opportunities or poor decisions.

I do believe that, for Christians, “all things work together for good for those who love God.” Sometimes, even terrible decisions, once submitted to God, can have a positive result or a valuable life’s lesson can be learned. Yet, there is a price to be paid for missing an opportunity or for making decisions that are unwise.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the parable of the “prodigal son.” The son, the younger of two brothers, approaches his father and demands that his portion of the inheritance be given to him. This, of course, was a way of saying, “I just can’t wait for you to die, old man, to get my money. I want it now!” In the face of this shockingly arrogant disrespect, the father does the unthinkable. He gives the son a third of his wealth, which would have been the son’s portion upon the death of the father. The son leaves home and, according to Jesus, “squanders his inheritance.”

It may have been that the father tried to reason with the son. If he did, it is not part of the parable and, in any case, was unsuccessful. It may have been that the dad saw this coming and knew that his son was going to do what he wanted to do regardless of any fatherly counsel he might give. But, give him the money he did, and, at some point in the future, the son was destitute and trying to survive on hog slop. It is at this low moment that the son “comes to himself” and determines to go home to his father. He rehearses a speech and, by all accounts, is genuinely repentant.

The father sees him from a long way off and runs to meet his wayward son, embracing him before the son had a chance to give his speech. He is welcomed back into the family, a party is given, he is provided with clothes to replace his rags, and a roasted calf will be his dinner that day instead of the vile slop he had been consuming to stave off starvation.

Yet, in verse 31, when the faithful, elder brother is angered by the treatment given the rebel, the father reminds him that “all that I have is yours.” Here is an indication that the younger son, who squandered his inheritance, will not receive any additional funds at the end of the father’s life. When the father dies, all of the estate will pass to the faithful, dependable son who stayed in his father’s house and didn’t waste the opportunities before him. To be sure, the younger son will have a home, a place, a family—but he has squandered his inheritance—there will not be another.

So, yes, I have regrets. There have been times that I have lost opportunities only to realize too late that another course of action would have been of great benefit. There have also been those times that I committed acts that have been costly to me and to my family. I am deeply regretful for the pain I caused others and the pain I caused myself in the process. As a pastor of some 35 years, I have witnessed, all too often, people going their own way and living to regret their decisions.

But, one cannot “unscramble eggs.” Wallowing in regret about what might have been is unproductive. There are lessons to be learned, however, but the greatest of these is to make good, sound decisions. It is wonderful that the loving father, who obviously represents God in the parable, welcomes the son back home without a word of condemnation. But the sad truth is that the younger son, who had such a rich inheritance to look forward to, never had to leave his father’s house in the first place.

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