Kehrberg: I wouldn’t change a thing

Jun 1, 2020 by

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It’s all my own fault — my own fault; and yet I’m not guilty!
— Stiva Oblonsky, Anna Karenina

Sarah Kehrberg


There is a well-worn trope in TV shows and movies when former lovers, old friends or estranged family members are finally reunited.

Person 1: “There are so many things I wish I would have done differently.”

Person 2: “Don’t say that! Everything that happened before, good or bad, is what has brought us together now.”

At first there is the ring of miraculous forgiveness in this scene of reconciliation. But then it always strikes me as odd that Person 2 is trying to convince Person 1 that their hurtful actions were, in the larger workings of the universe, what needed to happen.

This conversation would sound preposterous if Person 1 was, say, a physically abusive parent. Is it any more appropriate for a cheating spouse, backstabbing best friend, or grudge-holding sister?

Recently, I watched a romance movie that predictably involved a break up, a new love interest and a nail-biting “who will she choose?” scene. Just before the end credits and final kiss, the heroine reviewed the months of intense emotions and concluded, “If I could do it over, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because everything that has happened has brought us here.”

I was confused. The heroine, knowing she deeply hurt another human being (he professed that his heart was broken), responded with, “I’d do it again.” That sounds like the villain’s line.

How did this become the redeeming moral? A kind of Machiavellian philosophy put in reverse: “I have what I want, so whatever I did before is justified.”

I imagine that the people writing these dialogues for the screen are hoping to free their characters from the enslaving guilt and shame of past deeds.

They also make the excellent point that instead of raging against the fates that blow us about, we can remain grateful for our blessings, born of both pain and pleasure.

Even more, these stories perhaps show us that we hate feeling like we did something wrong.

That feeling can turn to shame, a festering sore on the human heart that will not heal. The Deceiver, whose only desire is to keep us separate from the perfect love of God, delights in our shame.

Or that wrongful feeling can lead to guilt, which can prompt humans to be better. The Deceiver doesn’t like that so much, and so has convinced us that our bad behavior is an essential part of our journey. We need the inconsideration, deception and selfishness that “brings us to this great place we are today.” Our worst actions — in a twisted, unholy turn of interpretation — become a good we could not have done without.

Jesus’ good news is that we can have the reviving guilt without the shame. When I look back on my life, there are plenty of things I would do differently if I could. I know that in 10 years there will be more things to add to that list, and it is paralyzing to imagine who or what will be injured because of my selfish ambition and vain conceit.

But my bad action — my sin — does not hold me captive. I will get up tomorrow and the next day, trusting that along with my misdeeds there will be miracles of forgiveness when people accept my apology and love me as I do not deserve.

This is the definition of grace. Grace has brought me to the place I am right now, and for that I wouldn’t change a thing.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.

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