Regrets of My Life, Part Two

“How do we deal with our life’s regrets?” was the question I left you with in my previous post. Here are some stories that answer that question.
In our early years on the field, I delighted in joking with our missionary friends and neighbours and complimenting them. Their responses often made me feel great. Unfortunately, these friends tended to be women. What was worse, I sometimes neglected to spend sufficient time with my own lovely young wife and daughters. When, after far too long a time, I finally realized how much my thoughtless and selfish behaviour hurt my wife, I deeply regretted my actions.
I also regret being undiplomatic with powerful Brazilian government officials. I should have been wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. I was not. I was as wise as a dove and my conversations with them may have harmed more than helped my ministry. Instead of enthusiastically casting my personal vision for what we wanted to do to help the Canelas physically, socially, economically, educationally and spiritually, I should have asked the  Brazilian official, “What is your dream for the Canela?” then shown him how we could help turn his dream into reality.
Jo shocked me one day when she said, “It’s no fun being married to you.” What?! We were the only family in the missionary community that had a regular family fun night each week. I regularly took our daughters out on individual dates in their teens. 
But there was something missing: I was driven to work, “married to the ministry” and to relax I turned to what Jo called “your crusades” which involved lobbying fellow missionaries and leaders to change policies on anything I felt strongly about, from printing Scripture portions to the location of new sidewalks. How I wished that I had sat down with Jo and said, “Let’s think up some fun and relaxing things we can do together, and make sure we do some every week.”
We all have said, “I wish I had done . . .” or “If only I . . .” and from there it is a small step to, “I’m such an idiot!” “Why didn’t I . . . ?” and other expressions of regret and self-loathing. Saying that is not bad in that we need to face up to things we have done wrong and the good things we didn’t do. Where we have sinned against God, we need to confess our sin and accept His forgiveness. Sometimes we simply goof up, forget something, or make small mistakes. They aren’t sins, just dumb things we do that confirm our humanity. We need to forgive ourselves for those actions too. 
Many of us regret something we did or did not do in the context of our families. Whenever possible we must make things right with those affected by our actions or inactions affected. We need to admit we messed up, ask for forgiveness, and change our behaviour. But once we have done that, we need to forgive ourselves, and stop beating ourselves up over these regrets.
Satan will try to remind us of the mistakes and wrong choices we have made, and of the hurts and embarrassment we have caused, and he will do this when we are the most vulnerable, just when we are trying to make a new start. That’s when we need to declare,
“Since God forgives my sin against Him, I also forgive my sin against myself. Satan, get out of here, I am forgiven and God gives me daily strength to live the way He wants me to live!”

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Regrets of my life, Part One

“If, knowing what you now know, you were able to do your whole translation program over again, what would you do differently?” I asked the veteran Bible translator. As a relative newbie, still in the first years of our program I expected this expert to give me esoteric advice on language learning or translation techniques. I was blown away by his answer.
“I would take more vacations.”
“Huh?” I couldn’t believe my ears. More vacations? Until that time we had not taken any vacations. It was work, work, work, day in, day out, month after month, ever since we arrived in Brazil.
He further told me that although he and his wife took time to retreat and rest quite often, they also traveled abroad once a year to the Caribbean to take a two-week-long vacation. And he wished he had taken more!
After that conversation our family made some good decisions about vacations. No, not annual Caribbean vacations, but we did work with other missionaries to build a small house a hundred metres from a beach on the Amazon. We spent as much time there as often as we could. We also took Brazilian vacation trips by car, staying with friends or in cheap hotels. We built some good memories. No regrets about vacations!
But I do have other regrets.
Before we left for Brazil, I had never sat down with close friends, family members and pastors of churches to tell them up front exactly how much money we still needed to raise before we left to work in Brazil. Nor had we ever asked anyone for his or her help in raising it. How I wished I had done this! Back in the mid-sixties the policies of many missions agencies, ours included, were very shy about stating specific financial needs, and absolutely forbad asking anyone to consider making a gift. “Just pray, God will supply,” our mission director counselled. “He will move people to give when they see you are on the field.”
We prayed a lot, but God did not supply, and we soon regretted leaving for Brazil with only 40% of our financial support promised. Jo and I had never, ever borrowed money for our daily living but the moment we left Canada we had to start borrowing money for groceries, and we lived in debt our entire first term. Our poverty and indebtedness made a deep and negative impact on our service with the Canelas during those years. We could have bought more medicine and saved more lives, we could have hired more language helpers, we could have . . . .
God did not move people to give until four years later when we returned to Canada and implemented a much more open and still biblical approach to inviting people to become our partners in ministry. Yes, one of my life’s regrets is being so reticent about recruiting financial partners.

How do we deal with the regrets of our lives? Obviously following sound biblical advice to prevent mistakes is the best method! Hanging in there until it is possible to make a change is another. But what about mistakes, sins, errors, stupid things we regret doing? How do we handle those regrets? More on that in the next column.

The Dark Side of Dreams

Readers responded to the post Does God Speak to us in Dreams Today? with seven separate dream stories, both through the comment option and by direct email.
One dreamt of the death of her mother and was moved to write a letter telling her mother how much she loved her. The letter arrived and was read by her mother just before she suddenly went into a coma and died. One dream prepared the dreamer for her father’s remarriage. One reader told of crying out to God in the pain of losing an infant to death. God answered her prayer by giving her a dream in which she held her baby for a time, turning her grief into lasting joy. Another dreamt of her father’s funeral reception where he walked about smiling hugely, not in the body of the weak sick man but in the vigour of his early manhood. 
Each dreamer considered her dream a gift from a loving heavenly Father in order to prepare her for a difficult time or to comfort her.
I wonder why all my correspondents were women. In every biblical incident it was the men to whom God spoke in dreams. So didn’t God speak to women in dreams in Bible days? Does He not speak to modern, western men in dreams today?
A missionary lady told of working with an indigenous people group that often suffered from terrifying nightmares. A major theme involved dreaming about losing or breaking teeth which meant that the dreamer’s relatives would die. Each tooth stood for a different relationship. 
One night the missionary dreamt all her teeth were breaking off. She woke up spitting into her hand thinking her mouth was full of broken teeth. With a shock of fear, she remembered that her three married children would all be traveling long distances by car that weekend. And she and her husband were flying into the village the next morning in a single engine plane over a wide river and trackless jungle. 
“I was now very awake and my heart was racing” she wrote. “And then I recognized I was under attack and I needed some armour. I prayed to my loving Heavenly Father and rebuked Satan.” Soon she was sound asleep.
When they arrived in the village she told her broken teeth dream and everyone was transfixed, staring at her with fear filled eyes knowing they were about to hear horrible news.
“I reminded them,” she wrote, “how powerful God’s Spirit is, far more powerful than even the chief evil spirit. I read them Ephesians 6, of God’s armour for our protection.” When she said that after prayer she fell peacefully asleep, the people were astonished and relieved. (Her whole family, by the way, returned safely from their travels that weekend.)
Sometimes God increases our faith in Him by giving us dreams that prepare us for difficult situations. Sometimes He allows Satan to give us a dream that leaves us filled with fear instead of faith. But we can turn this fear into faith by following God’s instructions in Ephesians 6:16: “ . . . take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”