How should we think about regret? Those memories of our past decisions that we wish we could undo? What do we do with those lingering feelings of frustration or grief? Regret is a complicated emotion. Sometimes it strikes quickly, like a tornado, reaping havoc on our emotions and faith. In other moments it floats into our life like fog, and lingers, obscuring our vision for the future. Easy solutions to regret abound, but are rarely helpful, and frequently amplify our sense of helplessness to understand the painful memory. “Keep moving forward.” “Don’t worry, be happy.” “Everyone makes mistakes.” “It’s just one of those things.” Sunshine rarely breaks through following easy solutions like these.
Here are a few suggestions to consider the next time you see regret rolling toward you.
1. Pray before you analyze. Ask the Lord to give you joy, peace, and hope as you face the memories of your past.
2. Remember the gospel. For all Christians, every sin is forgiven because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. No sin you committed can take you away from God’s love or purpose for you in Christ.
3. Genuine sadness over sin is evidence of the Holy Spirit. If you experience genuine sadness over your former sins, this is not a bad sign, but evidence that God is actively at work in you, giving you grace to care about righteousness. If you’ve never repented of those sins, confess them now, and believe in God’s promise to forgive you in Christ.
4. Not all mistakes are sinful. We are weak and limited creatures, unable to see the end from the beginning. We may be able to learn from former choices, but we should not embrace guilt unless our former choice was in clear disobedience to God’s Word.
5. Not all suffering is a result of mistake or a sin. It is absolutely unbiblical to assume that trails are always the result of our weakness or sin. Sometimes, in the mystery of God’s providence, difficulty is in our future even when we make wise and godly choices.
6. God’s love and redemptive power is not limited or changed by our sins or our mistakes. We tend to assume that there’s only so much God can do with such a failed record. The Bible actually records a consistent pattern of God using people when they are aware of their vulnerability, weakness, failures, and sins rather than people who have a high opinion of themselves.
7. Meditate on God’s calling and promises. Past memories may be helpful in teaching us wisdom, or in producing gratefulness for God’s forgiveness, but their value diminishes as they linger on and on without resolution. Choose to fix your mind on God’s calling for you today and tomorrow, and God’s promises to give you an inheritance in heaven. Choose not to return over and over to the scenes of your past mistakes or sins.
8. Invite a friend to help you evaluate the past accurately. We need perspective when facing regret, someone to help distinguish between mistakes and sin, and to remind us of God’s love and power.
All Christians face regret at some point in their pilgrimage toward heaven. May the God of all comfort, comfort your heart when you see those clouds rolling your way, and may the sun of his eternal hope shine quickly into your soul. God be with you, brother or sister in Christ, and give you peace.