Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death~ 2nd 7:10
Regret is hard.
There are a million different kinds of regret. Some regrets are no big deal in the grand scheme of life and eternity. Missed opportunities to do good or an occasional overindulgence (AKA taco night at my house) are lamentable for entirely different reasons. However, neither leads to the kind of grief that steals our joy and keeps us stuck in destructive emotional and spiritual patterns.
Other regrets are obviously tougher simply because they are by their very nature trickier to reconcile in our hearts.
A missed opportunity to do good can typically be made-up at another time and the consequences of most indulgences can be remedied with a little extra exercise. Other choices more complicated. Perhaps we deeply regret getting married and/or divorced, our chosen career path, the choice to have (or not have) children, or a great big sinful decision that simply cannot be undone no matter how much we wish it could be.
Whatever the cause, regret can quickly become psychologically and spiritually debilitating. This is especially true if we allow ourselves to get stuck in the quagmire of “what if” and “if only” thinking. When we get caught in the trap of “what if’s”, we spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what life would look like if only we had made another decision or wishing we had taken another route in life.
“What if” and “if only” thinking is a pointless waste of energy because it keeps us stuck in the past and focuses our energy in an introspective, navel gaze-y kind of way that will never actually change anything. To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge even God cannot change the past. Consequently, there is nothing to be gained by wishing we could do something that even the Omnipotent Maker of the Universe cannot (or chooses not) do.
Dealing with regret is about more than simply “getting over it” or “moving on”. I am convinced that God wants us to do more than just “get over” stuff. He wants to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ and sometimes God uses our deepest and most profound regrets in life to shape us into the people He wants us to be (Romans 8:28).
There are four things we need to do anytime we are struggling with regret.
The first is…
Own what you need to own-
Wise people own their mistakes because they know they will never grow past anything they refuse to take responsibility for (Psalm 32:5). If you have regrets concerning your marriage or how your kids turned out, do enough soul searching to figure out your part in the mess and own it. Don’t blame God, your parents, your spouse, society, or the church for the choices you made. No one can change what they refuse to acknowledge. Taking ownership is the first step to solving problems and living at peace with the past.
Change what you can change-
Taking responsibility frees us up to see what can and cannot be changed in any given situation. Sometimes even small changes in how we deal with people or circumstances can dramatically affect the outcome of the situation or the health of the relationship. If you don’t know what to do, read some Christian books, seek the advice of someone who has their life together or spend some time with a Christian counselor or pastor. Whatever you do, don’t give-up. Giving-up will ensure you stay stuck.
Make right what needs to be made right-
This means seeking forgiveness (Psalm 38:18, Hebrews 8:12). Every sin is ultimately a sin against God, so go to Him first and ask him to forgive you (He will). Then talk to the people you have hurt or wronged. If you were a crummy parent, spouse or friend be honest about your shortcomings and don’t blame others for your failures (Psalm 37:37, Hebrews 12:14). Seeking forgiveness from the people we hurt may or may not change how they feel about us but it does create an environment where God can bless and heal us.
Trust in the resurrection power of Jesus to do what we cannot do-
Sadly, there are times in life when situations or relationships are simply broken beyond our ability to fix them. Once we’ve done what we can do, we need to trust God to do the impossible. The Bible is clear; if you are a believer in Jesus then the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is living in you and working on your behalf (Romans 8:11). The resurrection power of Jesus is not only about salvation. Over time (if we let it) God’s power infiltrates our lives and that power allows Him to do the impossible and fix the things that broken beyond fixing.