In the 1870s, my great-grandfather supported his family as a cooper, that is, a barrel-maker, in Pittsburgh, Pa. One day, according to family lore, Great-grandfather was approached by an entrepreneur who was starting up a business in that city. This man's company would produce pickles and condiments, and he needed a skilled cooper to make the barrels. My great-grandfather, being an astute businessman, didn't think he would have much of a future partnering with such questionable and unproven business. So he politely turned down the offer, and instead, accepted a much more promising job making barrels for a brewery in Wisconsin.
The brewery my great-grandfather ended up working went out of business long ago. But you just might have heard of the Pittsburgh pickle-maker he turned down. His name was Henry J. Heinz. Today, the H.J. Heinz Company sells nearly $12 billion worth of pickles, ketchup, and other food products each year. I can't help but wonder what might have happened if my great-grandfather had accepted the job offer from Mr. Heinz. Would he have become a tycoon? Would his descendants have all been millionaires? If only he had taken that job in Pittsburgh! Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda.
We may not have missed out on opportunities quite like my great-grandfather, but all of us can look back in regret at choices we have made in life. None of us has to think long or hard to come up with a lengthy laundry list of poor decisions we have made and regrettable actions we have taken. How easy it is to become mired in regrets of the past. How difficult it is to shake the guilt of the wrongs we have committed.
If anyone ever had a reason to be held hostage by his past, it was the apostle named Paul. Before Christ called him to apostleship, Paul was determined to destroy the Christian church, becoming a sort of bounty hunter, capturing not criminals, but Christians. But all that changed when Jesus called him to faith. For the rest of his life, Paul served the Lord he had once hated and the Church he had once tried to destroy.
Paul never forgot his former life. He never tried to whitewash the sins he had committed and the hurt he had caused. But he also didn't let those sins of the past prevent him from doing the right thing in the present, and continue into the future. He said, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13,14).
Paul understood the seriousness of his past sins. But rather than letting those sins hold him hostage, he embraced the peace of his forgiveness, and continued forward. Through Christ and his forgiveness, we can do the same. The sins of our past are gone, paid in full at the cross. While we may not forget them, God has. So instead of being held hostage by regrets, we can move forward, serving our Lord and each other with a clean slate and clear conscience.
No "I shoulda," or "I coulda," or "I woulda." Instead, our lives can be, "I will."
- Brent Merten is pastor of Mountain Valley Lutheran Church, 802 Brush Creek Terrace, Eagle.