I’m fascinated by some of the subtleties of the English language. For several weeks, I’ve been mulling over a possible Messenger article about the helping verbs would, could and should, and the different nuances they express when we’re explaining our own or other people’s behavior:

“You should have” means “You had the responsibility.”
“You would have” means “You had the desire.”
“You could have” means “You had the ability.”

Which word we choose as a helping verb makes quite a difference when we’re describing the “if-only” regrets we have in life.


During my on-line research, I discovered a current song with the title “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.” I was surprised to learn that it was written and performed by TAYLOR SWIFT, as part of her latest album Midnights, released in 2022. I’ve never considered myself a “Swiftie,” but I think I may be, after spending time with this song. 

The lyrics express the thoughts and feelings of a mature woman reflecting on a damaging early romantic encounter in her life. She was “nineteen,” but she describes the relationship as being between a “child” and a “grown man.” He was old enough to know that he was manipulating her, while she was experiencing naïve fantasies about real love. Over the years since, she’s been tortured by waves of guilt and self-blame, sleepless nights, “ghosts,” “wounds that won’t close” and “memories that feel like weapons.” The trauma of that encounter leads her to declare:

“I regret you all the time.”
“Give me back my girlhood; it was mine first.”
“All I used to do was pray:
Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve;
If you’d never looked my way.”

You have to listen to this YouTube video with the lyrics superimposed – click here 

I found myself crying as I empathized with what this young girl was going through. I realized that I wasn’t just reacting to the song, but also to the pandemic of stories coming out almost daily about pastors and youth leaders in churches across the Nation who have been involved in sexual abuse of young people in their churches, using their position of spiritual authority and respect to groom and molest them, sometimes for years.* So many people have been traumatized and crippled for life by these pathetic leaders. It breaks my heart. I’m sure it breaks GOD’S heart. 

One of the most poignant lines of the Taylor Swift song is this:

“Oh, you’re a crisis of my faith
Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve
If I’d only played it safe . . .”

Yes, the saddest side effect of such toxic relationships between “spiritual” leaders and their young followers can be the loss of personal faith. If only; would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.  

Too late? It’s never too late. God can turn the manure pile of your would’ve-should’ve-could’ve regrets into fertilizer to nourish a brand new life! Open up to him.

– – Pastor George Van Alstine

* This recent letter from a victim of the leader of IHOPKC (International House of Prayer, Kansas City) contains many of the themes of the Taylor Swift Song: https://julieroys.com/exclusive-open-letter-to-mike-bickle-from-alleged-victim-tammy-woods/