An ancient Italian legend tells the story of a woman named Befana, who was visited one night by the Magi.
They asked her directions to the newborn King of Israel. Befana could not show them the way, but did offer them lodging for the night. The next morning the Magi girded themselves for the day’s journey and pleaded with Befana to accompany them. After all they sought the King of Kings to bring him gifts. Something within the woman yearned to go with them and find the Christ child. But instead she made excuses: “I cannot go. I have too much work here to do.”The Wise Men bid her farewell and left.
However, soon Befana regretted her decision. She had given up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the routine tasks of life. Quickly Befana gathered armfuls of gifts and ran out the door. She wanted to join the Three Kings in their search for the Christ child. But her quest was unfruitful. Though heartsick, she continued on, day and night. And as her pursuit of the Magi went unfulfilled, she found poor and destitute children along the way. To them she began to give the very gifts intended for the Christ child. According to the legend, she continues to this day. Now an old woman, she gives her gifts to poor children, on her way to find the Christ child.
This legend oozes with a theme that resonates in every human heart – a sense of regret. We regret missed opportunities. We regret unkind words and hurtful deeds to others. And we regret actions we can never undo. Regret is painful.
But there can be something redemptive in regret. Consider the story told by Ben Burton of his childhood cruelty to a little boy, Andy Drake. Little Andy Drake’s father was in prison. His mother took in laundry – and men – to make ends meet. Andy always seemed to be dirty and dressed in raggedy, over-sized or under-sized clothes. His rusty, one-of-a-kind bike, had sections of garden hose wired to the wheels in place of tires. Ben Burton and his buddies befriended Andy – but always kept him at a distance. And just to let Andy understand the difference between him and them, they cooked up a little jingle:
Andy Drake don’t eat no cake, and his sister don’t eat no pie,
If it wasn’t for the welfare dole, all the drakes would surely die.
But nothing seemed to dampen Andy’s spirits. He remained a cheerful boy and an intensely devoted friend. Then the day came when Ben Burton and his upper middle class friends decided Andy was not worthy of them. On the happiest day of Andy’s life, during a campout with “the gang,” Ben and his friends heartlessly mistreated Andy. They kicked him out of the group and sent him home crying. His family moved away soon after and Ben Burton would never see Andy again.
But the memory of those events would linger on to torture Ben for years to come. Try as he might, Ben was unable track down Andy. He could not undo “the martyrdom” of that little boy. Ben went on to become a business executive, author, columnist, and high school coach. In the face of every disadvantaged child and outcast person, Ben saw Andy Drake. He vowed he would never again betray him. In an open letter to the boy he could never find, Ben confessed his sins of so long ago. But also that they had driven him to accept and serve all the Andy Drakes of this life. In a true sense Ben’s regret had driven him to turn his own evil into good.
As in the legend of Befana, regret for past sins and failures can put us on the path to redemption. And Befana would be pleased to know that her quest of the Christ child was fulfilled. For in her giving to the poor she ultimately gave to Christ. He said, “What you have done to the least of these my brothers, you have done unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
Dear Father in heaven, I cannot undo the evil of my past. Please forgive my many sins and grant that my regrets will put me on the path of redemption. Please make me a blessing to others. Amen.