How do we deal with regret?
How do we deal with the feelings of sadness or guilt or reproach for hurting people in the past, for failures with our children, and especially our failures with God?
Now I’m not a kind of an Eeyore-type person, who is constantly gloomy and negative and down on himself. Jesus regularly fills me with joy. By his grace I don’t usually dwell on my failures and sins, but at times I can be tempted to have regrets. I have regrets about sins I committed before Jesus saved me, especially people I hurt. And I can feel sad about my failures as a believer. I have regrets about my younger brother, who many years ago suffered with depression and took his life – how I failed to understand his sickness and failed to have compassion on him. And I have plenty of regrets about failures and mistakes I made as a father.
I don’t wallow in self-disappointment or pangs of guilt. I’m just saying that all of us, at least every believer in Jesus, can be tempted to feel regrets at times. Some unbelievers may not experience sorrow for sin. But when Jesus saves us, he makes us aware of our sins and our need for his salvation and forgiveness. Jesus paid for every single one of our sins on the cross. But Satan, “the accuser of the brothers” (Revelation 12:10) tries to condemn us day and night. If he can get us to take our eyes off Jesus and focus on our past, he will.
SO HOW DO WE DEAL WITH REGRET?
FIRST OF ALL, WE MUST BELIEVE THAT JESUS BORE ALL OUR CONDEMNATION.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1
When God looks at us he sees us clothed with the righteousness of Christ. He sees us in Christ. He doesn’t see us as foul sinners. He has counted the righteousness of Christ to us, as if we had lived the life of perfect obedience that Jesus lived. When God looks upon us, he is filled with love:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12
And God tells us In Isaiah:
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25
When God says “I will not remember your sins” it doesn’t mean he literally can’t remember them, for he knows all things. It means he has made a decision to never bring them up again, for they are completely paid for and covered by the blood of Jesus.
So the first step in dealing with regret is to know that God himself has forgiven all our sins. What else can we do to move on from regrets?
ADMIT YOUR FAILURES AND SINS
First of all, admit them to God:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Until we get to heaven and God finishes his work of transforming us into the likeness of his Son, we will sin. Sometimes we sin intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. Sin is “missing the mark.” We will all miss the mark in relationships, in parenting, in ministry, at work. We may have the best of intentions. I had the best of intentions as a dad when my kids were young, and I believe God helped me in many ways to bless my kids, but at times I really blew it.
When God in his love for us points out our sins, we should confess them to God. Admit them. Don’t try to cover them up. Don’t make excuses for sin. Don’t say, “But I was trying my best.” Confess your sins to God.
Admit your sins and failures to those you sinned against.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23:24
If you “remember that your brother has something against you” – GO to him. Sometimes it’s not possible. But if you can, go. Or call. Or write. Do all you can to seek reconciliation. Go with the intent of asking forgiveness for any way you have wronged someone. Go with the intention of drawing them out. Hear what they have against you. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t make excuses. Don’t say, “Well I was trying to do the right thing.” Sadly I have done that at times. Don’t say, “Well you did this to me first.” Go, and ask God to help YOU see where YOU blew it. Go, and make the focus you – your sin. Don’t go trying to argue about why you were right. If you are truly humble, God will honor you. The point of you going is to ask forgiveness for what you did. If the other person needs to ask you forgiveness, trust God to show them. But that’s not why you are going. You are going to try to see your sin and ask forgiveness.
The next step in moving past regret is:
DO NOT WALLOW IN REGRET
Regrets are like anxiety or worry. Jesus said that worrying about the future won’t change a thing. Anxiety won’t add one minute to your life. The same is true about regret. Dwelling on our past failures won’t change anything. We can’t make the past different by wallowing in our grief over past mistakes. We must put the past in Jesus’ hands.
It helps me, when tempted to dwell on past failures, to remember that God is sovereign. He is in complete control of all things and he never makes mistakes. And in his sovereignty, he causes all things, including our sins and failures, to somehow work together for his purposes.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
God causes “all things” – even our sins – to “work together for good.”. This doesn’t mean we don’t feel sad about our failures, but it can help us not to wallow in regret. God knew I would do that; he paid for that sin, he forgave me and will somehow overcome it. The next step in moving on from regrets is:
LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES
My failure to show compassion to my brother in his depression, and my failures even after that to sympathize with those who suffered in ways I couldn’t understand have gradually helped me become much more compassionate. Realizing my arrogance as a young pastor in thinking our church was the best in town has helped to humble me and helped me to rejoice when God blesses and prospers other churches. God has used some huge relational mistakes I have made over the years to help me grow in seeking out those with offenses to me.
Don’t wallow in regret. Learn from your mistakes.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-13
Paul was not talking about forgetting regrets in this passage, but forgetting all his past works and “accomplishments” as a Pharisee. Paul didn’t focus on the past but kept his focus on pursuing Christ and all he had for him. That is good advice for moving past regrets. God has a future for each of us, which includes transforming us day by day into the likeness of Christ, and good works for each of us to walk in.
If we are continually focused on the past, we won’t move ahead to do the things God has called us to do to bring him glory. I like the way the Berean Study Bible puts Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12.1-2
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, not on our failures and regrets. “Lay aside every encumbrance,” including sadness and regrets over the past. Focus on Christ, who gave us our faith and who is in the process of perfecting it. All of our past mistakes cannot keep Jesus from perfecting our faith.
I’m sure there is much more that could be said about moving past regret. Hope these thoughts are helpful. Please add any thoughts or Scriptures that have been helpful to you in the comments.
God has a wonderful future ahead of you.