I recently heard someone pose these brilliant questions and answers:
When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago.
When is the next best time to plant a tree? Today.
All of us have things we wish we would have done long ago.
- Started that diet
- Asked for forgiveness
- Begun a retirement fund
- Brought a meal to a neighbor
- Made good on a promise
- Practiced to run a 5k
- Sent a love note
The problem is that we get so frustrated with ourselves for what we haven’t done that we become frozen do-nothings. And we come up with self-defeating arguments that keep us stuck: “I can’t start now. It’s been too long. People wouldn’t understand. I’m too old/fat/poor/sick/__________. I’d look ridiculous. It wouldn’t amount to anything.”
This kind of thinking keeps us stuck in a life-sucking, downward spiral of regret:
Frustration → Regret → Stuckness → More Frustration → Repeat →
My Broken Promise
I’d just finished high school when I had the opportunity to travel with a group from my church to Papua New Guinea. We worked for a month on a construction project and had an amazing time getting to meet so many loving people from this beautiful island nation.
Just before we departed for home, the people we’d met threw us a huge party. We feasted and laughed, and were humbled by the gifts they gave. One young man presented me with a beautiful bow and arrow set he had hand crafted. I didn’t have anything to give in return, so I asked if there was something I could send him from home. He was a Bible college student and really wanted a particular study Bible that would help him in his studies. Of course I promised that I’d send one right away.
Unfortunately when I got home I forgot about my promise for several weeks. Then when I remembered, I went to a bookstore I assumed would have the Bible he wanted — of course they didn’t (this was way before Amazon.com!). My busyness and regular forgetfulness caused months to slip by, and by that time I began to become embarrassed as well. I told myself, “The guy already thinks I’m a jerk, and he probably doesn’t even need the book anymore. I’d look stupid for sending it so late. I’ll just chalk this up as a life lesson and I’ll try to remember to not be an idiot next time.”
But as months turned into years, the thought of this unmet promise continued to nag at me — not constantly, but periodically I’d find myself thinking about how I hadn’t fulfilled what I said I would do.
It wasn’t until 20 years later that I finally came to the end of myself — and the end of this destructive thinking and behavior — and immediately wrote a check to go to the library of that young man’s Bible college in PNG. I knew, of course, that he may never find out that I attempted to right the wrong — but I was no longer stuck. What a great feeling!
Getting Free from Stuckness
How can we break free from this “cycle of stuckness”? Here are three thoughts to help us get moving in the right direction.
1. If I’m regretting something I’ve left undone in the past, it’s a strong indicator I should still deal with it.
There are thousands of things we could have done differently in our past. But out of all those decisions, there are probably only a small handful that really stick with us and bring regret. Those are the ones we should put on our “DO TODAY” list.
2. God gives me the strength to do what I need to do today, not to go back and relive the past.
Quit regretting past mistakes. We can’t go back in time to fix those things, but God has given us today! And God’s grace is available to us now to do what we need to do.
The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).
3. Do it now — right now!
Don’t let another minute go by without taking irreversible action to do what needs to be done. Go pick up the phone, start the letter, or buy the running shoes! Don’t wait and let the regret grow. Take care of it now. What’s the worst that could happen? Who cares — it’s better than living a life stuck in regret.
Today is the next best day to do what we should have done before! Now go plant a tree.