Regret - 2

On occasion one might cavalierly say, “I have no regrets.” Their lives may be littered by bad decisions, self-inflicted wounds or broken relationships, but they ignore them and boldly declare that if they had a second chance they would do the same things all over again. That’s hogwash, a transparent attempt to convince themselves and everyone else that they have acted with conviction and integrity. Taking “ownership” of one’s faults doesn’t excuse them.

Everyone has regrets, and honest souls admit it. Trying to paper over our mistakes further diminishes us as we refuse to accept the reality of our imperfection.

But owning up to our past confronts us with a scary issue: What do I do with that knowledge? What does it say about who I am? I dare say most of us can reflect on the painful truth that we have deeply hurt others, altered the course of someone’s life for the worse, and perhaps even hindered someone spiritually. How can we handle such deep regrets?

Well, we can deny that we are responsible, but deep down inside we know that is not true. And repressed lies cause serious emotional and spiritual dysfunction. This gives Satan a huge advantage over us. Denial plays right into his hands.

The other way to handle regrets is wrapped up in the concept of repentance. This is what God is looking for in sinners, and actually, this is what we hope for in others. No matter how deeply hurt we may be by someone else, the key to negating anger, bitterness and emotional scarring is simply to hear them say, “I am truly sorry I hurt you. It was wrong, and I regret it.” Some people nurse a grudge, but most want to let go of the past and move ahead unburdened.

It is true that we cannot change the past. Instead, we need to allow the past to change us. How can this happen?

“Repent” is from the Gk. metanoeo, literally “to change one’s mind or purpose, always, in the NT, involving a change for the better, an amendment …” (Vine). Past mistakes are not resolved by rituals or ceremonies but by genuine determination to not be the person who was moved to do whatever was wrong. When Paul said, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Ac 17:30), he is calling for a wholesale change in every sinner. We have all sinned, so we need to stop pretending that we are better than everyone else by denying our faults.

In order for transgressions to change us, we must accept responsibility for them. Only by facing up to the reality of our sins, and the damage they do, will we be convinced not to repeat them. But this is not the end of the process. We must analyze what it is that made us vulnerable to temptation and work to change that feature of our character.

For example, lying is nearly universal. In its ubiquity, lying is sometimes not taken seriously. But suppose I tell a lie that destroys a friendship. Repentance demands that I consider the motive for my lie. Did insecurity prompt a lie against someone else to make me look better? Did jealousy provoke me to lie to damage another relationship? This is the heart of repentance – a desire to identify our flaws and work at that level to change, with God’s help, into a person so spiritual, stable and mature that temptation finds no weakness.

Regret is also assuaged by accepting that God has forgiven our sin whether anyone else has or not. In David’s great psalm of repentance, he says something that seems odd: “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight …” (Ps 51:4). But David had committed adultery, murder, and a child’s life was taken due to his heinous acts. David doesn’t discount these awful realities, but they are somewhat peripheral to the real issue: Sin is ultimately against God; it is His law that is broken; His image that has been sullied; His divine wrath that must be resolved. Repentance is first a message to God that we want to be restored, that we are truly sorry for our sin because we realize the significance of disobeying and disappointing our Creator.

Thus, when God assures our forgiveness, as He did to David (2 Sam 12:13), we must accept that forgiveness. David’s restoration of fellowship gave him the mental strength to accept the other terrible consequences of his actions. It is a disposition his aides didn’t understand when, after the death of the child, David “arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (12:20). David did not allow his guilt to linger and thus destroy his further service to God.

Another element of dealing effectively with regret is to look positively at our mistakes by learning from them, gaining wisdom and understanding about human frailty, the power of Satan, the weaknesses that appear benign but make us highly vulnerable to grievous errors. This does not glorify or excuse sin. Experience with sin is not to be proudly worn like a feather in one’s cap. Rather, having fallen, we determine to live righteously in the future. Sin should not happen, but if it does, we should not let Satan have the last word. We can be destroyed by regret, or we can receive healing and move forward and help others do the same.