How to Overcome Regrets
“Regrets, I had a few, but then again too few to mention” was a line from Frank Sinatra’s famous song, My Way. While Sinatra is saying that people have regrets and shouldn’t dwell on it, the reality is that people not only have regrets, but for many it defines their life. I know, because in my case regrets have at times plagued me by raising its ugly head in my emotions. (More on that later).
Regrets can come in one of two forms: things we did that we wished we hadn’t and things we wished we did, but didn’t. Interestingly both of these regrets can exist simultaneously.
Before we discuss these regrets, a working definition is in order. Wikipedia says regret is “the emotion of wishing one had made a different decision in the past, because the consequences of the decision were unfavorable.”
In my research I discovered the most common regrets that people have. While the lists vary depending how the research was done, the ones below came up the most often.
· I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
· I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
· I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
· I wish I spent more time with the ones I care about and less time on social media
· I wish I cared more about those who cared for me
· I wish I was more present with my kids when they needed me the most
· I wish I had followed my passion
Notice that the themes of wanting to spend more time with people we love, like friends and family, and doing what was most important to us, are the overriding regrets.
How to overcome our regrets, especially as Christians, is key to moving forward. When believers talk about things that they wished they hadn’t done, in reality they are saying I committed a sin or sins that I regret. Not to oversimplify, but the remedy is to repent or tell God we are sorry for what we did, and then with God’s help not do it again.
We all have heard 1 John 1:9 to the point that we can quote it in our sleep. But for purposes of getting a different reading, I give you the Message translation. “On the other hand, if we admit our sins – make a clean breast of them – he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.”
That is the true and best way to deal with committing sin. Confess or admit the sin (don’t hide it), accept the forgiveness (many believers don’t because they won’t forgive themselves); and go forward with confidence in God’s cleansing.
Regret comes in when we don’t accept the forgiveness. In other words we confess our wrongs to the Lord, but then we go through a kind of self flagellation. We keep saying how bad we are and believe we are that can last for years. Brothers and sisters, if we truly believe that God has forgiven us, then He has. Anything else makes us act like we know better than God.
Of course, many of us wished we did things we ended up not doing. For Christians, this in a lot of ways is disobedience. In other words, God impressed on us assignments he wanted us to carry out, such as a ministry opportunity, but because of fear or some other reason, we didn’t.
Years ago, I knew God was calling me into a very specialized ministry, but it felt too risky financially to act on it. That decision was huge because of the potential impact on the lives that this ministry would have touched. Now the good news is after repenting of my fear and cowardice, the Lord led me into another ministry where I did have impact on people’s lives. But I firmly believe, had I obeyed, the impact would have been much greater.
You know who else loves to keep us in continual regret: Satan. That’s right; the enemy of our souls has a field day with our emotions on this issue. On top of that our flesh nature falls right in line with the Devil. We say things like, “I know better than that”; “if I am such a committed Christian, why did I do that”; “my life will never recovery from that missed opportunity”. Lies, lies, and more lies!
My friends of faith, we will all fail (sin) at some point. That is a guarantee also from Scripture (see 1 John 1:8). The better question is what will we do when we sin? What will we do when we realize we missed an opportunity?
We can live in regret or do what the Bible tells us to do and move on. Paul puts it this way in Philippians 3:13, “but I am focusing my energies on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3:13). Every day of life is precious, so let’s not waste it by living in regret, but by living in freedom.