July 3, 2017

“I Wish I Would Have...”

“I wish I would have” does not mean failure.

Gerald A. Klingbeil

What did you insert at the end? What came spontaneously to mind as you began to finish a familiar expression? “I wish I would have . . .” reminds us of missed opportunities and squandered potential. It also reflects our age. Teenagers or young adults use it sparingly. Once we have hit the big “50” we seem to gravitate more toward it.

Imagine Moses climbing Mount Nebo and wistfully squinting across the Jordan toward Canaan—the Promised Land. I am sure he felt like saying “I wish I would have . . .” What about Peter, following the night of Jesus’ capture, after the cock had crowed three times?

At times we all wish for different outcomes, new opportunities, second chances, and fading memories.

As I write these lines I whisper the phrase in my own heart. Within six weeks my wife and I will face an empty home; we will join the band of empty nesters. Of course, we are grateful that our three girls will not work in Antarctica or feel the calling (at least “not yet”) to minister to an isolated tribe living deep in the Amazon jungle. They will go to Adventist boarding academy and university. They will continue to grow and mature. They will (we hope) thrive and be a blessing to the people surrounding them. They will call us (now and again!); they will write e-mails (please keep them coming), and we will see them on Skype.

“I wish I would have” does not mean failure.

We will continue to cheer their successes and cry with them when they are hurting. We will listen to them when life becomes complicated, and when they mess up and need forgiveness. We will surround them with our prayers every morning and every evening, knowing that they are in the best of hands—the Father’s hands.

Yet there is this nagging expression, hidden deeply in the back of my mind. “I wish I would have” comes naturally when we recognize our own flaws. My wife and I recognized this right away when we held our first tiny, helpless, noisy bundle of potential in our arms. Hannah is now 20 years old—a gracious, poised, energetic young woman who loves Jesus (thank You, Lord!) and has an ambivalent relationship with mathematics (too much humanities in both of our families). Sometimes I wish I would have spent more time with her instead of writing for an urgent deadline. I wish I would have listened more carefully when I answered one of her questions distractedly, while continuing my work on the computer.

“I wish I would have” does not mean failure. Rather, it reminds us of our own limitations and points us to the Father’s boundless possibilities. We recognize that we need to let the Spirit create the right moment for a much-needed conversation—over the phone, on Skype or FaceTime, or sitting next to a bed when the house becomes quiet and the shadows of the streetlight dance on the wall.

“I wish I would have” helps me entrust my most precious relationships to the One who never has regrets, who knows the end from the beginning, and loves our children into His kingdom.

After all, He has been watching over them long before I did.

Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of Adventist Review.