I was sitting at work a couple of years ago, when a colleague proudly proclaimed she had just eaten 5 bananas.
“What?” I asked, somewhat surprised. “All at once?”
“Yes,” she replied with a big smile. “I enjoyed the first, so I just kept eating. Isn’t that great?”
Well, bananas are good for you, that’s true. And most of us should eat more fruits and veg. But, 5 bananas? All at once? That’s a case of ‘too much of a good thing’, and at some point her bowels would likely make her regret her decision to eat so many.
You may not have experienced the after effects of eating 5 bananas, but maybe there are other types of regrets you live with. Probably bigger regrets than eating too much of something. I know I do.
“For all sad words of tongue and men, the saddest are these, ’It might have been’.”
This quote from John Greenleaf Whittier is one I have often heard. It’s a good reminder of the importance of prioritising those things of long-lasting significance. It prompts us to ask ourselves the ever-important question, “At a later date, will I regret what I am doing now?”
Like the story of the bananas, though, this healthy principle can be taken too far.
For me, there are things I’ve done that are contrary to the Lord’s commandments – sins. I’ve apologised to my children at times for getting too cross with them for something or other. I’ve often felt regret for having not studied the scriptures as much as I know I should have: how much important understanding have I missed out on because of that? There are other things, of course, but this post isn’t intended as a confessional.
Then there are things I wish I’d done, but maybe don’t directly have spiritual consequences. For example, I haven’t posted anything on this blog for a long time, and because I know some people have gained comfort from things I’ve written here, I feel like I’ve let them down. Sometimes these feelings of regret have been overwhelming. I’ve had a lot of health problems over the last couple of years, both physical and mental, and at times my regrets have been just one more thing to punish myself with.
But then recently I discovered something new. Not new in that I’d never heard or thought it before, but new in that it had never touched my heart in the same way before.
It started a few weeks ago when I was listening to a speaker at Church, and he talked about how our aim in life is not to live perfectly – that’s not possible. Instead, our goal is to just do what we can.
I was then reading in the New Testament and came across Jesus’ words to His disciples:
“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” (Mark 12:41-44)
And it struck me. Christ was talking about this widow’s financial contribution to the temple. But He wasn’t really teaching about money. The widow’s contribution in monetary terms was paltry, in the scheme of things maybe even totally insignificant. What she did, was in many ways virtually meaningless. It wasn’t her actions, as such, that were being judged however. Rather, it was her heart. And her heart gave so much as to bring praise from the Saviour.
You see, it’s not the absolute quantity of what we give, in money, or time, or our talents. If we measure ourselves in terms of ‘how much’, we’ll always fall short.
Rather, it’s where our heart is. That’s not a free ride, of course. We can’t just say, “Hey, it doesn’t matter what I do because my heart’s in the right place.” As James taught, our works need to be consistent with our faith – otherwise it’s not really faith. Or, as James puts it, our faith is “dead”. (See James 2)
But over the last couple of years when I’ve been so unwell, I’ve still wished I could do more. I’ve truly desired what my body or mind couldn’t deal with.
And do you know what? Because of Christ, that’s good enough. Because of His Atoning sacrifice and His mercy, the scales of God’s justice will weigh in my favour for that period of my life – despite the fact that I have done very little. And do you know what else? This new understanding has helped me come to terms with some of my other ‘failures’ through life.
I still do plenty of things wrong, of course: things for which I need to repent. But the Gospel of Christ is a gospel of salvation, not of damnation. It is a gospel of repentance, and mercy and hope; not of finger-pointing and self-recriminations. It all boils down to my heart, and what I desire most to do.
The ancient prophet Alma, speaking to his son about the eternal consequences of our choices on earth, contrasted two people:
“The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh. And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness. These are they that are redeemed of the Lord.” (Alma 41:5-7, emphasis added)
So, if you’re weighed down with past failures (real or perceived), and blame yourself for somehow not doing more than you have. Remember the widow and her mite. She gave almost nothing, but it was all she had to give. And because of that, her offering meant everything to the Saviour.
Because of Christ, it was enough for her, and it will be enough for you and me.