In late 2000, a few months after my wife was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, I bought her a Lexus. I hoped the shiny luxury car might lift her spirits.
Unfortunately, she only got to drive it a few times before she grew too weak to sit behind the wheel. I’ve been driving it ever since. I don’t like paying a lot of money for cars, because they quickly depreciate in value. So I vowed to get my money’s worth out of this vehicle. I promised myself I’d keep it until the wheels fell off.
The wheels now are pretty much falling off. The car’s got more than 200,000 miles on it. The transmission is a mess. The internal computer is fritzed out. This Lexus chugs and bucks like an old Chevy pickup. A trip to the grocery is a frontier adventure.
Recently I mentioned my Lexus’ disintegration to my spiritual adviser, Rick, an ordained minister and seminary professor who also happens to be a psychologist.
Your car has a lot in common with people, Rick said.
Well, he said, it’s a great car. But if you drive it long enough, it eventually wears out. Even a Lexus can only take so much stress, and then it can’t take any more.
I got the message.
As Rick knows, I spent five years as the primary caregiver to my dying wife. Much of that time, she was bedfast. During the same period, my mother passed away. My church underwent a series of upheavals. I was worried about my adolescent son.
Over time, I disintegrated. My physical health declined. I also grew clinically depressed, withdrawn, surly and resentful. My faith in God waivered.
I’m much recovered. But I constantly battle feelings of regret and guilt. I’m filled with what an acquaintance called the “woulda, coulda, shouldas.” I wish I’d withstood my family’s tragedies more steadfastly. I wish I’d been more saintly, less selfish.
Rick’s point was that even the best vehicles break down. It’s inevitable. And good people break down, too.
I don’t mean to imply that I’m the Lexus of human beings. Far from it.
What I do know is that, during my family’s crucible, I tried my absolute best to do my absolute best. And for a long time, I did pretty well. Then I didn’t do well anymore.
Rick was saying I need to cut myself some slack. I need to realize that no one, even the truest saints, can perform perfectly forever.
I mention this in a public forum because I know I’m not the only person bothered by the woulda, coulda, shouldas. I’ve encountered many people who carry debilitating regrets–over failed marriages, failed parenting, failed careers, failed faith.
Sometimes we need to remember the reasons, the stresses, the wears-and-tears of the road, that led to our collapses. If our wheels fell off, that doesn’t mean we were bad vehicles. It may only mean we were driven harder, longer, than we were designed to go.