Spiritual Formation

“Do What You Won’t Regret”

This simple piece of advice was given to me at one of the most pivotal moments of my life.

Peter and I were trying to decide whether or not to bring baby D into our home—as a Safe Family placement to start with. His case was headed for the foster courts, and perhaps adoption, but one can never be sure how these things will go.

Looking back now, I wonder why in the world we wavered. From my vantage point today, I can see God’s fingerprints pressed onto every page. Certainly, at times, it has been tough. But Daryl’s been our son now for nine years, and we can’t imagine our family without him.

At the time of this decision, though, our hearts were still red raw with grief. We had not long ago lost three babies to miscarriage, and we had gotten excited about more adoption possibilities than I even care to count.

I was afraid to once again love, then lose.

I was afraid even to hope.

So one March afternoon in 2009, I collapsed into the office chair of a wise colleague and friend. I updated her on baby D’s situation, and I released some of my anxiety in a heavy sigh.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Kelli,” my friend said, “except…do what you won’t regret.”

I had undoubtedly heard this sentiment before. I might have even considered it a cliché.

But in that moment, her words brought such clarity to my mind that I knew in an instant what we needed to do. I knew that, down the road, I would never regret loving and caring for baby D—even if it were temporary, and even if it meant more of my own pain. And I also knew that I would regret it for the rest of my life if we said, “No.”

 

I’m sure my friend didn’t realize how significant her advice would be. She didn’t know that it would alter the course of our family’s life, or that it would stick in my memory for years to come.

But that’s the truth. That simple statement—“do what you won’t regret”—leaps to my mind in many situations. Big and small.

“Do what you won’t regret.”

I think of it when I have successfully weaned myself off of caffeine, and my brain craves a cup.

“Do what you won’t regret.”

I think of it when my alarm goes off—calling me to my extra-early time of reading, writing, and prayer—but my body doesn’t want to budge.

“Do what you won’t regret.”

I think of it when I’m tempted to make a purchase I can’t afford, or de-prioritize my marriage for lesser things, or raise my voice at my kids.

“Do what you won’t regret.”

 

Why is this simple statement so helpful? I’ve been pondering its “stickiness” in recent days, and I have a few thoughts.

So here’s why I think we should all commit this sentence to memory, post it on our dashboard, and scrawl it in eyeliner over our bathroom sink.

Here’s what this little word of counsel causes us to do:

Take some time.

One of the most common, and contrary, pieces of advice we hear these days is “follow your heart.” What we often really mean by this is “do what feels good.” Those feelings (…of lust, or longing, or laziness…of anger, or frustration, or fear…or whatever) are happening right now. Whatever we feel, we feel in this moment. And those feelings can be very compelling; they cry out to be satisfied—not sometime in the future, but now.

However, rather than reacting to a situation out of those emotions, when we actively engage with the principle of “doing what we won’t regret,” we have to hit the PAUSE button. We have to engage our brain. We have to take at least a second to breathe and to think.

Look ahead.

Again, when we “follow our heart,” we are primarily concerned with the immediate. The instant gratification. When we allow our emotions to lead, we are simply dragged along behind, our eyes focused only on the “pseudo-prize” that lies right in front of our face. The grande café au lait. The thirty minutes of extra sleep. The glorious thrill of a brand new thing. The satisfaction of speaking our mind.

“Doing what we won’t regret,” however, means lifting our gaze beyond the immediate pleasure or satisfaction or release. It requires us to fast-forward to the future—whether that be a few minutes from now or several years down the road—a future in which our action has come to its natural consequences. It requires us to ask: “Is that outcome really what I want?”

Evaluate your options.

When we “follow our heart,” I think we are concerned with one primary criteria: Does this feel good?

This question could have several derivations, I suppose, such as: Is this comfortable? Is it exciting? Am I “passionate” about it? Does it fuel my pride? Regardless, the basic principle is one of pleasure, and the expected outcome is emotive. We imagine that we will feel better on the other side.

On the other hand, when we “do what we won’t regret,” we have to do some harder work of weighing up our options. We have to ask some uncomfortable questions. And we have to answer ourselves authentically. We have to be willing to consider:

Does this choice help get me to my greater goal?

Does it accurately reflect my values?

Is it right?

Is it good?

Is it made out of love?

And if we are people of faith—most importantly—does it glorify God?

Be brave.

I believe that “doing what we won’t regret” will ultimately get us to the place of peace and satisfaction and joy that we truly long for. I believe that following this principle does come with the unparalleled contentment of knowing that we did what we needed to do.

However, that doesn’t mean that the journey is easy. It definitely doesn’t always “feel” good.

In fact, “doing what we won’t regret” often means intentionally taking the harder road. It means purposefully turning down the more painful path.

And this undoubtedly requires a courage beyond our own capacity and a fearlessness that can only be fueled by a loving and omnipotent Father.

What choices are you making today? Big and small.

By what guiding principles will you make them? What criteria will you use?

From where do you draw your courage? 

Finally, what do you want to add to this conversation? I’d love to hear your comments!

8 thoughts on ““Do What You Won’t Regret”

  1. Great piece, Kelli! I don’t think I have ever heard that wise counsel! I know some definite areas in my life where I need to apply it. Thanks for all the pictures from England too! Love seeing the family Peter’s homeland!

  2. Love this! We often talk about “Live life without regrets!” and this wraps it up from another perspective. You have a gift with words and timely stories! Thank you!

  3. Watching my oldest make decisions that are “follow your heart” based is rough. This was spot on for what I needed to read today. 💕

  4. Thanks for this article.
    I remember my old flatmate gave me this advice concerning dating a guy and how we filled our time as a dating couple: “think longterm!”
    It resonates exactly with what you just wrote. And it had a great impact on our whole relationship. It gave us the right attitude about the goal of our lives including the future of our relationship. The perspective of glorifying god through our relationship, staying pure and protecting the other etc.
    And I’m giving this advice to all of my students now, too. especially in terms of dating issues.

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