“Oh Mama, she’ll be fine. She’s almost 15” I rolled my eighteen year old eyes. Mama stared ahead and said nothing. Her face revealed no emotion as she seemed to mentally accept her helpless state. Propped up in a hospital bed in a cramped room, her body lay quiet under the draped sheet. What could she do? Her youngest child wanted a snack and had set off to roam the hospital floor to find the vending machines and she was too weak to accompany her—or make me.
I was three years older than my sister, independent, athletic and adventuresome. Diane was delicate, cautious and petite. I liked to romp and roam; she liked to read and hang close to home. Her asthma and allergies caused Mama to worry.
“I should get up and run after my sister to make Mama feel better,” I told myself. “But I know Diane will be fine, Mama just worries too much.” Stubbornly, I clung to my chair and my pride.
Minutes later my sister returned to our cramped space with a soft drink and crackers in hand. Diane was fine. All was well.
No, nothing was well. My mother was sick and there was nothing the doctors could do to stop her cancer. And tonight I had rejected an opportunity to show her that we would take care of each other after she was gone.
I probably wouldn’t even remember that exchange except for the timing and location. As a teenager I disagreed with Mama over lots of things. It was not unusual for us to engage in verbal ping pong matches. Tonight, I had pinged and the game was over. At that moment I think Mama and I each realized things had forever changed. She was no longer strong enough to fight me. Oh how I wanted her to.
In that moment I understood my mother’s mortality and my selfishness. Both shook me.
If Mama had lived, I may not have remembered that night. It would have been one of thousands of surly teenaged responses. But Mama became weaker, not stronger. That’s why I remember the night she didn’t fight back.
What do you do with regret? I can’t go back and undo that night. I know my mother didn’t hold it against me, but the memory of that night generates regret. I had fussed with her before and it never bothered me. Maybe it was God’s grace that allowed me to feel regret this time.
Wallowing in regret does not help; agreeing with God that Jesus’ blood is enough to cover my sin and to scrub me clean of its stain does (1 John 1:9). I’m thankful for the awakening of my conscience. At least I became more sensitive to my mother’s feelings that night. Grown-ups feel hurt and helplessness too sometimes.
To feel regret and welcome Christ’s cleansing is healing. To rationalize my behavior and harden my heart is scary. I’m thankful for the grace that allows me to feel and helps me let go.
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