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Beating the 'would have, could have, should have' blues

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

I noticed something a few years after I began to learn how to play the flute. Because I practiced, I actually got better.

Improvement comes with consistent practice. What happens to all the mistakes that are made along the way? Sometimes they are referred to as landmarks; a turning point was made, and great growth followed. But often, progress in life overshadows mistakes, and they are lost sight of completely. Looking back on past mistakes is hardly useful and can act only as a roadblock to progress.

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One thing that can impede living a full and happy life in the present is the "I would have, could have, should have, but..." drone. It's an unhappy tune that usually ends in self-justification, regret, or fear that mistakes will affect the future.

Human thought without spiritual inspiration and vision has limited boundaries. Without the divine impetus, we often experience the present moment within the confines of regret about the past and consequent concern for the future. When this happens, it's impossible to see the present good. In my own experience, it's clear that I can't go back and redo the past, but that today, now, I can pray. I can listen to the thoughts God is giving me today. These present thoughts will help me view the past and the future with hope and courage.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, had many inspiring things to say about living fully and abundantly in "the now." She wrote an article originally published in 1903 in one of the magazines she established, the Christian Science Sentinel. In this article she wrote in part: "We own no past, no future, we possess only now. If the reliable now is carelessly lost in speaking or in acting, it comes not back again.... Faith in divine Love supplies the ever-present help and now, and gives the power to 'act in the living present' " ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," page 12).

Living consistently with divine Love in the present enables us to see the mistakes of the past in a new light and opens the door to a brighter future. An honest appraisal of past mistakes is important, but then it is best to move on praying with sincerity and right motives.

A number of years ago, I was divorced after a short marriage. At first I was very angry and convinced that I had made a big mistake in getting married in the first place. I kept saying to myself things such as "I should have known this wasn't a good match," or "I should have waited longer before getting married." There were many other "should haves." And I had to admit that I had not really been consulting with God about this marriage. I muddled around for several months, thinking about what I should have done before waking up to how I could be living my life at the time.

One day I had the distinct feeling that these persistent thoughts about the past, which seemed to be pursuing me, weren't actually part of my spiritual nature. These thoughts were simply present thoughts about my past, and I could choose to think different thoughts - fearless, innocent, free thoughts, the thoughts God gives me about who I am right now. As hard as it was to take this in while I clung to the past, my harmony as the child of God was all that had ever been true about me. And the false thinking stopped as though a running faucet had been shut off.

I began to have more compassion for myself and for my ex-husband. I was able to see this experience in the light of Love, God, where I lived right then, and to review it with wisdom, meekness, and spiritual honesty. The sting of a terrible mistake began to fade away, and my ex-husband and I were able to remain friends. We talked about our relationship at different times with deep understanding of each other.

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Regardless of whether I should have or could have done something better, I can always ask God now how to live in the present and go forward with progress.

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold,
now is the day of salvation.

II Corinthians 6:2


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