Regret avails little—still less remorse—the one keeps alive the old offense, the other creates new offenses.
The unrepentant sinner walks abroad. Unfortunately for us moralists he seems to be having a very good time. We must not condone him, though he may be a very lovable person; neither must we altogether condemn him, for he may be repentant in the very best way of all ways, the way that forgets much and leaves behind more, because life is so fine that it must not be spoiled, and because progress is in every way better than retrospection. The fact is, that repentance is too often the fear of punishment, and such fear is, to say the least, unmanly. I would rather be a lovable sinner than one of the people who repent because they cannot bear to think of the consequences. Knowledge and fear of consequences undoubtedly keep a great many young people from the so-called sins of ignorance. But there must be something behind knowledge and fear of consequences to stop the youth of spirit from doing what he is inclined to do. Over and over again we must go back to the appreciation of life’s dignity and beauty—to the consciousness of the spirit of God behind and in the world if we are to find a balance and a character that will “deliver us from evil.”
When we have found this consciousness—when we live it and breathe it, we shall be far less apt to sin, and when we have sinned, as we all must in the course of our blundering lives, we shall not waste our time in regret or in the fear of consequences. If the God we dream of is as great as the sea, or as beautiful as a tree, we need not fear Him. He will be tender, and just at the same time. He will be as forgiving as He is strong. The best we can do, then, is to leave our sins in the hand of God and go our way, sadder and wiser, maybe, but not regretting too much, not fearing any more.
There is a new idea in medicine—the development of which has been one of the most striking achievements of modern times—the idea of psychanalysis as taught and advocated by Freud in Germany. The plan is to study the subconscious mind of the nervous patient by means of hypnotism, to assist the patient to recall all the mental experiences of his past,—even his very early childhood,—and in this way to make clear the origin of the misconceptions and the unfortunate impressions which have presumably exerted their influence through the years. The new system includes, also, the interpretation of dreams, their effect upon the conscious life and their influence upon the mentality. Very wonderful results are reported from the pursuit of this method. Many a badly warped and twisted life has been straightened out and renewed when the searchlight has revealed the hidden influences that have been at work and which have made trouble. The repression of conscious or unconscious feelings can no doubt change the whole mental life. We should have the greatest respect for the men who are doing this work. It requires, I am told, an almost unbelievable amount of patience and time to accomplish the analysis. No doubt the adult judgment of childish follies is a direct means of disposing of their harmful influence in life, the surest way of losing the conscious or unconscious regrets that sadden many lives. There are probably many cases of disturbed and troubled mind that can be cured in this way only. The method does not appeal to me because I am so strongly inclined to take people as they are, to urge a forgetfulness that does not really forget, but which goes on bravely to the development of life. This development cannot proceed without the understanding that life may be made so beautiful that sins and failures are lost in progress. Some of us may need the subtle analysis of our lives to make clear the points where we went astray in our thoughts and ideas, but many of us, fortunately, are able to take ourselves for better or for worse, sins and all. Most of us ought to do that, for the most part, if we are to progress and live. Sometimes the revelations of evils we know not of result in complications rather than simplification, as in the case of a boy who wrote to me and said that since he had learned of his early sins he had made sure that he could never be well. Instead of going into further analysis with him, I assured him that, while it was undoubtedly his duty to regret all the evil of his life, it was a still greater duty to go on and live the rest of it well, and that he could do so if he would open his eyes to the possibilities of unselfish service.
I am very much inclined to preach against self-analysis and the almost inevitable regret and despair that accompany it.
One of my patients decided some time ago that her life was wasted, that she had accomplished nothing. It was true that she had not the endurance to meet the usual demands of social or even family life, and that for long periods she had to give up altogether. But it happened that she had the gift of musical understanding, that she had studied hard in younger days. With a little urging the gift was made to grow again and to serve not only the patient’s own needs, but to bring very great pleasure to every one who listened to her playing. That rare, true ability was worth everything, and she came to realize it in time. The gift of musical expression is a very great thing, and I succeeded in making this woman understand that she should be happy in that ability even if nothing else should be possible.
Often enough nothing that can compare with music exists, and life seems wholly barren. Rather cold comfort it seems at first to assure a person who is helpless that character is the greatest thing in the world, but that is the final truth. The most limited and helpless life may glow with it and be richer than imagination can believe. It is never time to regret—and never time to despair. The less analysis the better. When it comes to character, live, grow, and get a deeper and deeper understanding of life—of life that is near to God and so capable of wrong only as we turn away from Him. “Do not say things; what you are stands over you and thunders so, I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” We shall do well not to forget that, whatever failures or mistakes we have made, there is infinite possibility ahead of us, that character is the greatest thing in the world, and that most good character has been built upon mistakes and failures. I believe there is no sin which may not make up the fabric of its own forgiveness in the living of a free, self-sacrificing life. I know of no bodily ill nor handicap which we may not eventually rise above and beyond by means of brave spiritual progress. The body may fail us, but the spirit reaches on and into the great world of God.