The importance of regrets

Jennifer Ferrara

Photograph by Dwayne/Two Stout Monks - (CC)

Several months ago, I saw part of an interview Oprah conducted with the porn star Jenna Jameson.  Apparently the show was about the increased use of pornography by women.  Judging from what I saw, Oprah and her audience seemed to think this was a good societal development. 

Though Jameson has retired from her “profession,” she is proud of her work.  “I love who I am.  I love that I can look back and say ‘I did it my way.’”  She set out to be the number one porn star in the world and succeeded.  Though she worries about how she will explain her past to her twin sons, she has no regrets. 

As she spoke these words, the audience nodded in agreement.   What is the point of regret anyway?  "No sense dwelling on the past."  "As long as she did it her way, that’s all that matters."

In our society, we talk about mistakes and learning from our mistakes.  But that is different from regret.  When we regret something we have done, we feel guilty. Though some people are guilt-ridden, many more think guilt is pointless and debilitating.  It is a "psychological failing."  To dwell on the sins of one’s past is "unhealthy."    

Contrast this with St. Augustine. In his "Confessions," he says he was only able to know the joy of Christ by turning away from a life of sin.  And he knew what he was talking about.  As a young adult, Augustine lived a rather wild life in 5th century Rome and Milan, where he was a teacher of rhetoric and a speechwriter.  He partied a lot, attended gladiatorial games, kept a mistress and had an illegitimate child. 

One day, he walked into his garden, feeling overwhelmed with utter guilt and uselessness.  At this low moment, he seemed to hear a child’s voice say, pick up and read.  And having at hand St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he opened it and read:

“Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling or jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” 

Augustine instantly underwent a deep spiritual change.  Later he became a priest, a bishop, a Christian philosopher, one the greatest saints in the history of the Church.

Without regret for what he had done, Augustine would never have been open the healing power of God’s grace.  Without awareness of sin, we tend to worship what Scripture calls the “pride of life.”  We think that what is important is that we live life “our way.”  As long as we are determined to live life our way, we cannot live life God’s way. 

In order to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” we have to turn our lives over to God.  This is a constant process.  We are brought back to God through feelings of regret.  People such as Jenna Jameson have fallen so deeply into sin, they barely know right from wrong.  Such people have always existed.  But it is frightening to think that they can now find a receptive audience of millions on mainstream television.    

The road to heaven is paved with regrets.  Those who never feel guilty or sorry for what they have done are destined to become slaves to their own desires.  Perhaps Jenna Jameson feels "happy" with the life she had led. But I highly doubt it. 

Either way, it is not the life God wants us to lead.  So be wary of those who come in sheep’s clothing, telling you there is "no point to having regrets."


Photograph by Dwayne/Two Stout Monks - (CC)

Topics: Culture , Faith , Personal Growth

Jennifer Ferrara was a Lutheran minister for eleven years before converting to Catholicism in 1998.  She is a full-time mother and part-time writer, and has written numerous articles on religion and culture. She is co-editor of Women in Search of Truth: Converts to Catholicism Tell Their Stories (Our Sunday Visitor).  She resides in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with her husband, twin sons, and daughter. 

View all articles by Jennifer Ferrara

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January 27, 2015

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